If one were to compile a canon of influential independent artists that have truly shaped the genre, Yo La Tengo would certainly have a spot on the list. At least that’s what I’ve been told. The New Jersey trio began their debut over twenty-five years ago. Now that’s something to contend with. I wasn’t even born. Sunday night marked the second night performance for the band at Cats Cradle and although it didn’t officially sell out (like the previous night), I still encountered parking issues and a crowded venue. I’d never seen Yo La Tengo perform, but I had spun their tracks modestly over the air in the past and was somewhat familiar with their discography. Needless to say, I had a lot of expectations.
My first surprise for the evening was the crowd itself. As someone who’s use to seeing Cats packed with a rowdy youthful bunch for shows of the likes of Caribou or Of Montreal, Tengo’s turnout was a lot more, well, experienced. Not that I’m complaining, but it certainly did speak to the years of influence and fan base the band has acquired. My second surprise of the night was right after frontman Ira Kaplan, drummer and wife of Ira, Gerogia Hubley, and bassist James McNew took the stage. A large game show wheel was carted to the front. Its pie slices were outfitted personally to fit song choices to be played by the band that night. A few selections included songs by their associated acts, Dump and the Condo Fucks. Another pie slice featured songs with people’s names in them. The band finally chose an overly eager man in the front row who convinced us he had been waiting at Cats all week for the show. His spin lasted a few moments before stopping on the choice for songs that started with the letter ’S’.
DJ Chuck also attended the show and commented that “Yo La Tengo have been around so long, and their catalog is so vast, that it’s hard to know every song of theirs. They did close out the set with a couple I did know however, those songs being the fan-favorite Sugarcube and Sudden Organ." He continued on to say, ” after a half-hour break, the band came back on for their second, wheel-less set. Running through a barage of songs that ranged from quiet and pretty to loud and full of feedback, the band closed the set with a 20-plus minute song that started out quiet and gradually built it’s way up to a noisy climax, with guitarist Ira Kaplan swinging his guitar around like a madman, inducing all kinds of feedback.“
The band came back out for a short encore consisting of Autumn Sweater, their cover of Daniel Johnston’s Speeding Motorcycle, and another cover which Chuck nor I didn’t catch the name of, but was a quiet, acoustic number.
I was pleasantly happy that Yo La Tengo pulled tracks from their most recent album release from September 2009, Popular Songs. It’s a great album which features the bluesy sexual rock and roll of Here To Fall, beautiful folk with More Stars Than There Are In Heaven and nostalgic instrumental with The Fireside. Yo La Tengo’s show proved to be just as versatile where their age was showing- in a good way. The trio seems to have adapted to the trends of music over the years, but they have never let it label or define them. Their performance had me on Sunday, (Ellos me tengan), and I think I can finally appreciate their role within this eclectic music genre.