I Saw Yo La Tengo
Assuredly it's the enormity (coupled with the flora and fauna that surrounds)of the Ohio River that constantly provides awe and a certain type of magic when attending a show at Newport's famed/historic Southgate House. Don't get me wrong, I love Columbus, even Cincinnati, but there's something about being on the other side, hugging the border, mixing with the locals in these hallowed halls, on the wide, hilltop, front porch, that provides the perfect environment for a rock show. All that aside, Yo La Tengo provide their own sort of magic, something that transcends nostalgia, and most definitely trumps the flood of '90s indie acts looking for the payoff that comes from reuniting years after calling it quits. Think about it. Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew, have never called it quits. And after almost 25 years of continuous records and touring, they don't seem to show signs of age. On this Saturday night, the trio weaved and bobbed and flowed through a tidy set of hits and current favorites, that was never short on soulful energy and genuine love for the songs they write and play. If there's a more earnest and grateful band in rock today, I'd love to meet them.
In seeing this particular set (of Yo La Tengo I believe I've seen five or six over the years, never disappointed), the band leaned heavy-ish on their latest album, Popular Songs. It's one of those that I think will hold sway long after we have forgotten about it, seems a lot of press already did. That's likely because they tacked on an additional record of three longish fever dreams to an already spotless album. This is Kaplan's Motown/Mac record, and behind the keys on this Saturday night, he proved his experience in soul -- this is entertainment, not a Spoon concert. This is "in the round" showmanship, switching back and forth between Velvets strum and blistering guitar solos, to organ folly and crisp summer pop. Ira Kaplan > Thurston Moore and Georgia Hubley > Kim Gordon. Them's the facts kids. Couples were dancing, heads were bopping, faces often melted (especially on the rousing one-two of "Big Day Coming" and "Nothing to Hide."
I always had my love/hate relationship with Sonic Youth, but after seeing this life-affirming performance from Kaplan, surgical destroying his guitar then lulling it back in baby's arms, I'm convinced he's the pre-eminent axemen of multiple generations. Who else ends their shows with songs from Neil Young, Gary Lewis (which they learned on the stage), and Sandy Denny? Even your parents would appreciate the craftsmanship and sincere professionalism that goes into every single YLT performance. At least for today, they are my favorite band -- still going.