The joys of Yo La Tengo

02:55, Feb 05 2010

It's Spanish for "I've got it!" Apparently.

Yo La Tengo will play Auckland this Monday, February 8, and Wellington the following night, Tuesday, February 9. See here for details.

I can't say I've followed the band for their whole career - they started in 1984.

But I have been a fan since 1997 - the year the band released I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One. It's still one of my favourites - along with 2000's And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out.

If you want the quick highlights - and actually it's a fairly comprehensive compilation - you should grab Prisoners of Love: A Smattering of Scintillating Senescent Songs: 1985-2003.

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Hearing that triple-disc set (with A Smattering of Outtakes and Rarities 1986-2002 included) showed me the depth of the band. The cover versions, the soundtrack contributions, the range within their originals...

Once I discovered them each new album was a joy.

There was 2003's Summer Sun. A brilliant alternative pop album. Then there was 2006's I Am Not Afraid of You And I Will Beat Your Ass - a brilliant alternative pop album title. And a superb set of songs. Track 5, Black Flowers, is a sublime piece of XTC-meets-Paul McCartney adult pop. Later in the album there are long freakout tracks.

And that's the thing with Yo La Tengo. You cannot pin them down.

The band creates perfect "record collection pop" - there are overt references, obvious touchstones and subverted influences tumbling from each and every album. But it is never alienating. It is often cerebral - but also accessible. And the band moves from pure pop to dissonant noise - almost always within the same album; often within the same track!

Last year's Popular Songs was another treat; the band's 12th album found them still on form. It is frontloaded with short, quirky alternative-pop - three 10-minute jams close things off.

I like Yo La Tengo because I feel like I never quite know what I am going to get - and I mean that in the best possible way. There are songs on And Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out that could be stripped of the vocals and you would believe that Brian Eno was involved. There are songs on I Am Not Afraid of You that you will instantly fall in love with; wondering why you never heard them on the radio. There are songs on Summer Sun that subvert The Beach Boys and The Velvet Underground. You can hear bits of Sonic Youth and Guided by Voices in the band's sound. You can hear The Clean too. But you are always hearing Yo La Tengo.

Formed by husband/wife duo Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, the band has a reputation for putting on stunning shows - offering plenty of diverse covers as well as dipping into the vast back catalogue of originals.

I can't wait for Tuesday night.

In a perfect world I will get to hear: Return to Hot Chicken, Sugarcube, Damage, Deeper into Movies, Black Flowers, Avalon or Someone Very Similar, And the Glitter Is Gone, Let's Save Tony Orlando's House, Last Days of Disco, Everyday and Madeline.

But, I'd be just as happy getting to hear: Tired Hippo, Night Falls on Hoboken, Periodically Double or Triple, More Stars Than There Are in Heaven, Beach Party Tonight, Little Eyes, Take Care, Georgia Vs. Yo La Tengo, Speeding Motorcycle, Dreams, Cast a Shadow, I'm Set Free, Enough and The Story of Yo La Tango (and yes that's "tango" not "tengo").

So, you get the point - I'll be pretty happy just getting to hear the band do their thing live on stage.

I understand there are tickets still available - for both Auckland and Wellington. So if you have the chance/time/money then use this weekend to check out some of the band's magic/music and get yourself along to their Monday show if you live in (or near) Auckland. Or head to the Tuesday show if you are in (or near) Wellington.

It will be a great night of music for me - because I'll be off to Still Bill (which I talked about earlier this week) and then to Yo La Tengo after. Great stuff.

So - are you a fan? Are you heading along? Do you have a favourite album? Have you seen them live before? Or have you heard some of the band's music and it wasn't really your thing?

What do you think of Yo La Tengo - and are you tempted to check them out?

I mentioned this as one of the Top 5 Gigs of Summer that I had to predict for The Dominion Post late last year. I hope it stands up. I reckon it will.

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