The joys of Yo La Tengo

Last updated 15:55 05/02/2010

Yo La Tengo

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.

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,Yo La T-Shirt 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?

Yo La 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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25 comments
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Bruce   #1   04:06 pm Feb 05 2010

I've seen them live twice, in London, and they were great both times. The first time was at Shepherd's Bush Empire and that version of Blue Line Swinger blew me away (that's not in your list of songs you want to hear?!). Still one of the best live moments ever!

The second time was very interesting as they were doing music while footage of old underwater films were playing. Very surreal but great.

I always liked their raunchy version of Little Honda, although the Jesus And Mary Chain had already done that with Surfing USA.

And Pavement or Pixies in March weren't in your list of top 5 summer gigs?? Shame!

(not regular posting) Don   #2   04:18 pm Feb 05 2010

I've only seen them once and that was a million years ago (1991?) in San Francisco. I can't remember much about it really except they played a killer cover of 'I Heard Her Call my Name'.

Susan   #3   04:23 pm Feb 05 2010

Nice write-up, Simon! Spot-on description of a band that's hard to pin down; if that's not a contradiction. Sometimes tuneful, sometimes dissonant, almost always interesting. Still haven't seen them live, although I've had plenty of opportunities (Milwaukee, Chicago, Minneapolis) and will do it next chance I get. Tell us how the show goes.

HW   #4   04:30 pm Feb 05 2010

I am very excited to finally see one of my favourite bands live. when they were last here in 2002 (?) I was too young to attend the R18 gig at the power station.

My favourite album is electro-pura, but i can hear the heart beating as one is pretty much first equal.

would love to hear 'green arrow' and 'pablo and andrea'.

Lemon Tart   #5   04:47 pm Feb 05 2010

Another band that creates perfect "record collection pop" is Spandau Ballet. Does this band sound like Spandau Ballet?

Dave   #6   05:02 pm Feb 05 2010

Wouldn't 'I've got it' be 'Lo tengo'?

Christian   #7   09:44 pm Feb 05 2010

Man, thanks Simon! Until I read this I was doing a pretty good job at convincing myself that it's not a big deal that I can't make it. Now I'm kicking myself - why am I not going to this gig???!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWr6Ep8N3OU

keith   #8   10:20 pm Feb 05 2010

I saw them live at the Edinburgh festival in 98, was so blown away I bought two albums and a t-shirt on the spot... damn they are not playing in the South Island, if you are curious about them, just go!!

Si   #9   10:25 pm Feb 05 2010

Lemon Tart is just pulling our leg! I like Autumn Sweater, that's a good song.

richard   #10   10:58 pm Feb 05 2010

I love this band but only listening to on CD or vinyl. Having seen them twice live i was bitterly disappointed in their live show; they are lack-lustre and the mix was appalling, something they freely admit can be hit or miss! I hope they aren't too jet-lagged.

However for sonic guitar freak outs i think they are up there with the best, especially the cover of 'Can't seem to make you mine'


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