Yo La Tengo | 03.22 & 03.23 | Tel Aviv

Words by: Kevin Schwartzbach | Images by: Goni Riskin

Yo La Tengo :: 03.22 & 03.23 :: Barby :: Tel Aviv, Israel

Ira Kaplan :: March, 2010 :: Tel Aviv, Israel
You never know quite what to expect from Yo La Tengo. With an extraordinarily diverse repertoire ranging from long-winded psychedelic jams to poppy heartfelt love ballads and everything in between, it's impossible to predict the character of any given live show. Hell, with this Hoboken-based trio it can be hard enough to predict whose going to be playing which instrument.

What's truly remarkable about the diversity of their music though is that there isn't any of the pretentious artistic posturing found in so many bands labeled as "indie." With Yo La Tengo there really is no "point" greater than the music itself. Sure they can be experimental, but not for the sake of experimentation alone. And yes they can be poetic, but not for the sake of poetry. The various roads they explore in different genres and with different elements are merely a means of self-expression. And what they lack in focus, they make up for in creativity. But despite their often seemingly disconnected discography, there's a certain unpolished grunginess to their music that serves as a common thread – their unique artistic trademark.

It's only fitting than that the band's chosen venue for their two-night tenure in Tel Aviv would be the Barby, a grungy hole-in-the-wall type place located in the southern part of the city. But as the old saying goes, don't judge a concert venue by its facade – the Barby is one of Tel Aviv's biggest and most acoustically well-built joints.

Israeli folk-rocker Geva Alon began the first evening armed with nothing more than his voice and an acoustic guitar. Despite his limited resources, the solitary Alon managed to create a somber yet energetic aura filled with emotion that mesmerized the crowd. His deep Johnny Cash-like voice matched with his folksy guitar licks gave him a rather unique sound. And though he addressed the crowd in his native Hebrew, he managed to vividly express himself with a subtle mastery of the English language. "Lately I began to wonder/ What's there for me around this town?/ Whose skyline shape seems like forever growing monsters/ It gets me down, so down" Alon belted out in the song "Get Closer Now" off his latest, similarly titled album Get Closer. Taking a break from his lyrical insight, Alon showed impressive guitar chops, taking a bluesy solo on top of self-provided loops.

Yo La Tengo :: March, 2010 :: Tel Aviv, Israel
From the get go, Yo La Tengo made it clear that their stay in Israel was going to be heavy on the noise, creating a wall of feedback before dropping into "Big Day Coming" to start things off. Ira Kaplan (vocals, guitar, keyboards) was quick to relinquish his spot behind his warbling keyboard, grabbing his beat up Fender Jazzmaster from the burly James McNew (bass, vocals, and occasionally keyboards, guitar, drums) to deliver the first of many noise-bending solos. Whether it be pounding indiscriminately on the keys or waving his guitar around to harness the feedback, Kaplan's distorted, effect-laden noise improvisations seemed his favorite mode of expression.

I didn't quite know how an Israeli crowd would take such far out sounds, but it seemed to be well received. "We were doing some interviews before the show," began Kaplan in between songs, "and a bunch of people asked us what we expect from these shows. Well, we didn't really have any expectations. We didn't even know if people here know who we are." Surprisingly, much of the crowd seemed to be well versed in Yo La Tengo's vast material, as song names flew at the stage during every opportune moment (to which the band often obliged).

While they've always had a proclivity for the experimental, what makes Yo La Tengo's music so interesting is the juxtaposition of this experimentation with more conventional elements. It's no surprise that they're often compared to 1960's avant-garde rock groups such as The Velvet Underground. VU's influence on YLT was clear in Kaplan's Lou Reed-like voice as well as the droning guitars. Kaplan's wife Georgia Hubley's (drums, vocals and occasionally guitar) voice too has a certain Nico-like grace to it. And like Maureen Tucker, Hubley is one of the few noteworthy female drummers in rock.

Georgia Hubley :: March, 2010 :: Tel Aviv, Israel
Hubley came out from behind her kit to play some guitar and sing for us on Electr-O-Pura's "Decora" and "When It's Dark" from their latest release Popular Songs. Both nights saw all three members moving from instrument to instrument showing a rare level of musical versatility.

In typical Yo La Tengo fashion the trio effortlessly shifted genres over the course of the evening, keeping the crowd on edge. From the trudging post-rock crescendo of "More Stars Than There Are in Heaven" to the swinging minor blues progression of "Periodically Double or Triple" to the power-pop edginess of "Sugarcube," they really managed to cover all their bases. The mostly instrumental "Pass the Hatchet, I think I'm Goodkind" closed off the first night's set with their trippiest display yet in a lengthy psychedelic exploration. Over McNew's steady bass line, Kaplan switched back and forth between demonic noise solos and (slightly) more conventional guitar solos.

The second night bore much similarity to the first. Geva Alon opened up again, playing a nearly identical set to the night before. The Jersey natives began with the jazzy "Our Way to Fall." Like the first night, the second night was a healthy mix of noise solos and more straight ahead pop and rock tunes, but also saw a few wholly instrumental songs like "And the Glitter is Gone."

James McNew :: March, 2010 :: Tel Aviv, Israel
Though most of the second night consisted of songs we'd yet to hear, they opted to repeat a few tunes from the night before such as "If It's True" and "When It's Dark" among others in support of the new album – a bit disappointing given the band's enormous repertoire and limited opportunity to see them here. As promised from the night before, "Autumn Sweater," one of their more popular numbers, came out early in the set and was one of the highlights of the evening.

The band's personalities seemed to shine through much more brightly on the second night, as Kaplan more often took breaks between songs to banter with the crowd in a joking manner. Their quirkiness and geekish connoisseurship of obscure music manifested itself in several choice covers including Sun Ra's odd "Nuclear War," during which Kaplan jumped into the crowd, gathering a few people to help him repeat Sun Ra's hilariously dire proposed consequences of a nuclear fallout. In honor of their stay in Israel they ended their first of two encores with a song by a Jewish artist, Jeffry Ross Hyman – better known as Joey Ramone. Taking a moment to get into character, they charged right into "Sheena Was a Punk Rocker" rocking out in a way that would have made the punk legend proud.

Few bands can pull off what Yo La Tengo does during live shows, jumping from song to song with a complete disregard of defined genre boundaries. But a genuine artistic drive gives this gifted trio the ability to go in just about any direction; what makes them so compelling is that they take the audience with them.

Setlists

03.22.10 :: Barby :: Tel Aviv, Israel
Big Day Coming, More Stars Than There Are in Heaven, Tears Are in Your Eyes, Stockholm Syndrome, Here to Fall, If It's True, Mr. Tough, I'm On My Way, Decora, When It's Dark, Periodically Double or Triple, Deeper Into Movies, Nothing to Hide, Sugarcube, Pass the Hatchet I Think I'm Goodkind
First Encore: From A Motel 6, The Kid With The Replaceable Head (Richard Hell cover), Can't Forget
Second Encore: Big Sky (The Kinks cover), You Can Have It All (KC and the Sunshine Band cover)

03.23 :: :: Barby :: Tel Aviv, Israel
Our Way to Fall, And the Glitter is Gone, Little Eyes, Autumn Sweater, Periodically Double or Triple, The Weakest Part, Here to Fall, If It's True, I'm On My Way, Black Flowers, When It's Dark, More Stars Than There Are in Heaven, Cherry Chapstick, Tom Courtenay, Nothing to Hide, Blue Line Swinger
First Encore: Nuclear War (Sun Ra cover), Last Days of Disco, Sheena Is a Punk Rocker (Ramones cover)
Second Encore: Griselda (The Holy Modal Rounders cover), Take Care (Big Star cover)

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[Published on: 3/30/10]

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