I arrived at the Showbox on Thursday night unsure of what to expect. I’ve heard the music, sure. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything in a live setting, so I was a little apprehensive. I’ve been listening to Yo La Tengo records for about as long as I’ve been listening to indie rock, but I’ve never been a huge fan, and they’ve never been a band I’ve listened to a lot. I’ll talk about that more in a bit.
Opening for Yo La Tengo was The Corin Tucker Band. Because Corin Tucker is the former lead singer of Sleater-Kinney, I expected a large turnout. This wasn’t the case. The venue was maybe half full during Tucker’s set. People missed something great.
The band took the stage and began playing “Handed Love” without a word to the crowd. Immediately, guitarist Seth Lorinczi was a joy to watch, but the band took a while to warm up.
After four or five songs, Yo La Tengo singer and multi-instrumentalist Ira Kaplan joined them on stage for a song. Once he left, the band seemed more energized, as if they had something to prove. They played the rest of their set as if they were on fire and even presented a new song.
Twenty or thirty minutes after The Corin Tucker Band left, Yo La Tengo took the stage accompanied by game show music . They explained that they were playing the two sets, mentioned something about a “wheel,” and brought it out. Basically, the first set they played was determined by a spin of a game show style wheel. There were a number of choices, including songs starting with the letter S, a set by the band’s alter ego The Condo Fucks, and a set of instrumental score. Ira Lenkin chose someone from the crowd, he spun the wheel, and it landed on “The Name Game,” which was a set of songs which are also people’s names. Then the band left for ten minutes to figure out the details of the set.
I’m not terribly familiar with YLT’s catalog. I bought And Then Nothing Turned Itself Out around the time it came out in 2000. I’ve also listened to a few of their other records over the years. I’m not sure why, but they’ve never really clicked with me. They’re amazingly talented musicians, and they’ve cast a long shadow over the independent music scene. Yo la Tengo as a band is older than some of the kids I was standing near. This is one of the reasons why I agreed to cover the show, and I’m glad I did.
Ira Kaplan has to be seen to be believed. I have never seen anyone mangle a guitar the way he can. They ended the set first set with a ten plus minute jam that was completely exhilarating. I’m not sure if I’ve ever experienced noise rock quite that beautiful. Drummer Georgia Hubley and bassist James McNew set a groove, and Kaplan went to it.
As the first set ended and I waited for the band to return, I attempted to remove my jaw from the floor. The second set was a bit more traditional. They played many classics, with a few newer songs mixed in. The people near me who knew the band’s material better than I seemed to approved. Watching Yo La Tengo is an interesting experience. There are moments of sublime beauty where you find yourself spacing out, completely immersed. There are others, when the band members are wailing away at their instruments (keyboards, drums, bass, guitars) that catch you completely by surprise.
As it turned out, this was one of the best shows I’ve attended in a while. I’m surprised it wasn’t better attended and hope that the next time Yo La Tengo visit Seattle, the show has a better turn out. Until then, I’ll be listening to their records.