Over three decades in existence and fifteen albums to their name, we went to see if the legendary archetypal indie-rock band Yo La Tengo still pack the same punch in their infamous live shows – this time at the appropriately evolved EarTH, Hackney.
For some time now, Yo La Tengo have been well known for eschewing support bands in favour of playing two distinctly separate sets – and encore(s) – per night. With such an incredible back catalogue to choose from coupled with an ability to pull an impressive, Springsteen-esque, amount of songs from across their oeuvre to perform, there is always a possibility they will bring some rare treats for hardcore fans. Equally, there is such a hypnotic quality to their music complimented by an ear for pop hooks and the impressive array of instruments the trio of Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew possess in their disposal that it’s impossible not to be charmed by this incredibly influential act.
Tonight they start a two-day stint at London’s relatively hot new venue EarTH (or Hackney Arts Centre as its also known) which while is a beautiful room fully befitting a band of Yo La Tengo’s magnitude, it needs to work on its comfort – those hard wooden stalls are no joke for a two and a half hour set. Either way, the band are warmly received as they launch into their first set, which is mostly taken from last year’s ultra-shoegazey album _There’s A Riot Going On_ making for a dreamy, more psychedelic first half of the night.
“While the first set possesses real beauty in its trance-like nature, a whole hour of it in a slightly uncomfortable venue does get a little tiring for some, so the desire for some big hitters grows exponentially.”
Album and set opener ‘You Are Here’, for instance, is an excellent builder of mood and tension that will carry throughout the first and quieter set of the night. From there, songs like the delicate ‘She May, She Might’ or exquisite ‘Ashes’ are just as thrilling as they were on the record last year. One of tonight’s aforementioned “rare treats” comes just shortly after, as they perform ‘The Pain of Pain’ from their very first album _Ride the Tiger_ from 1986. While the first set possesses real beauty in its trance-like nature, a whole hour of it in a slightly uncomfortable venue does get a little tiring for some, so the desire for some big hitters grows exponentially.
There has always been a dry sense of humour about Yo La Tengo, for example, Kaplan’s getting up to hit a single cymbal from Hubley’s kit while otherwise playing keyboards every minute or so. They tease a small joke at the beginning of their second set by opening with the extremely peaceful ‘Dream Dream Away’ from their latest album. However, this is quickly extinguished by a sudden burst of distortion from Kaplan’s guitar announcing 2009’s _Popular Songs_ closer ‘And The Glitter is Gone’, providing a much-needed jolt of energy into the crowd.
“By this point, any potential frustration has been long washed away as the crowd beg for more despite the two hours worth of excellent music they’ve already been given.”
From here on, the second set of the night provides a much louder and hit-friendly run of songs, much appreciated by the crowd. Last album standout ‘For You Too’ sits perfectly amongst these crowd-pleasers, coming ahead of a gorgeous run of songs including ‘From a Motel 6’, ‘Autumn Sweater’, ‘Double Dare’ and ‘Ohm’, before finally closing on the epic ‘Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind’.
By this point, any potential frustration has been long washed away as the crowd beg for more despite the two hours worth of excellent music they’ve already been given. The band reciprocate kindly, performing a cover of one of their biggest influences, The Kinks (whom they also covered on their debut album), with the classic ‘Til the End of the Day’ before another rare treat with _Summer Sun_ track ‘Season of the Shark’. Finally, as a special request for an unnamed audience member’s 40th birthday who e-mailed in advance, we get a beautifully stripped down, Hubley-led, version of one of the band’s greatest tracks ‘Tom Courtenay’ closing a brilliantly memorable set and proving Yo La Tengo are still the dons of American indie-rock.