Royal Festival Hall – May 4th
Over the three decades that Yo La Tengo have been making music together their sound has taken in everything from beautifully hushed delicate folk and blissful krautrock to noise rock and psychedelic freakouts. It’s made them one of the most restlessly creative and most consistently great bands of the past 30 years. And the sheer breadth of their work means it makes perfect sense that for their show tonight at Royal Festival Hall they’ve split their set into two very distinct sets – to all intents and purposes one quiet and one loud.
Stick the album on whilst you read
The audience are sat in hushed reverence as the band begin with ‘You Are Here’ which begins a first set focused on the hushed and ironically titled new album There’s A Riot Going On. Like that album’s rich warmth, the audience are treated to a set of beautiful krautrock lullabies. it seems perfectly tailored for the surroundings. ’She May, She Might’ is the stand out, proving itself to be the equal of anything they’ve created in their 30 years as a band, with its beautifully intricate chimes over a percussion as delicate as a spider’s web. We also get treated to the equally sparse, almost threadbare, Pablo and Andrea from Prisoners of Love.
What’s most apparent is what brilliant musicians they are as they silently and effortlessly switch between instruments and create a quiet, mesmerising sound which washes over the venue. The fact that they are seemingly lost in the music themselves and don’t talk to the audience makes it all the more hypnotising. It also puts into focus the fact that they are all incredible musicians – with James McNew even taking on vocal duties for ‘Black Flowers’ proving he has a gloriously gorgeous voice.
That’s not to say there aren’t moments to piece this sincerity – they’re a band known for their sense of humour and during ‘Ashes’ Ira Kaplan strides back and forth across the stage to tap a cymbal, all to increasingly loud laughter from the crowd.
As the second set begins the volume starts to rise. It begins quietly with ‘Dream Dream Away’ but they soon start to cut loose. Fade’s ‘Stupid Things’ ramshackle rhythms and whispers hint at what’s to come and the brilliant (and brilliantly titled) ‘Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House’ sees us moving into classic Yo La Tengo territory.
Guitar solos are terrible but this is brilliant – urgent, vital and ecstatic
‘Deeper Into The Movies’ – from I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, the album that saw them at the very height of their powers – feels vibrant and cathartic, Kaplan plugging in and making sure the dreamy wash of the song dissolves into a wall of feedback.
But things are only just really starting and It’s ‘I Heard You Looking’ which is revelatory; over 10 minutes of lose yourself guitar shredding from Kaplan, who even passes his guitar down to the front row so a member of the crowd can add to the cacophony of noise. Another guitar is brought out by the tech so he can keep shredding some more. Guitar solos are terrible but this is brilliant – urgent, vital and ecstatic, taking you out of yourself just as Kaplan is lost in his own world.
It ends a few days later and the band return to play covers (no Yo La Tengo ever show is complete without the covers). Tonight we get ‘Part Time Punks’ by Television Personalities, ‘Come On Up’ by The Young Rascals and a beautifully scuffed ‘Ready Mades’ by The Bonzo Dog Band, three songs as diverse as the set they’ve played tonight.
It feels like 30 years of passion, and skill and energy has been diffused into two and a half hours. It’s loud and quiet and beautiful. It’s celebratory without relying on nostalgia, a band who are still making music as good now as when they started.
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