Yo La Tengo Kicks Off 2023 Hanukkah Run With Sun Ra Arkestra, John Early & Ladybug Transistor

An annual tradition like no other began with the first of eight straight shows at The Bowery Ballroom in New York City.

By Andy Kahn Dec 8, 2023 8:14 am PST

One of live music’s most impressive yearly traditions is Yo La Tengo’s annual eight-night run of shows coinciding with Hanukkah. The band that started the tradition years ago in their hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey, kicked off this year’s run of celebratory concerts on Thursday night at The Bowery Ballroom in New York City.

As expected, the evening began with a set by a comedian as John Early warmed up the crowd. Frequent Yo La Tengo collaborators and Hanukkah run participants The Sun Ra Arkestra played an opening set as well. Members of the legendary jazz outfit founded by the late Sun Ra and currently under the direction of 99-year-old Marshall Allen returned to join Yo La Tengo for a large portion of the evening’s main set.

Yo La Tengo started their set with drummer Georgia Hubley leading her husband, guitarist Ira Kaplan, and bassist James McNew through a tender cover of “My Little Corner Of The World.” The trio then played “Sinatra Drive Breakdown,” which was one of two songs from their 2023 album, This Stupid World, that made Thursday’s setlist.

Pulling from across their catalog, YLT dialed up “Autumn Sweater,” “For You Too,” “Madeline” and “Lewis,” before being joined by members of the Sun Ra Arkestra. The auxiliary horns contributed to “Shaker,” “Don’t Have To Be So Sad” and the show’s other This Stupid World track, “Artificial Heart.” The guests also added to a boogie version of “More Stars Than There Are In Heaven” and a cover of Rex Garvin & the Mighty Cravers’ “Emulsified.”

A trio of Sun Ra songs were also part of the collaborative portion of the set, including “Dreaming,” “Unmask The Batman” and the set-closing Yo La Tengo staple, “Nuclear War.”

The encore was a customary collection of covers of songs by Jewish songwriters, with The Ladybug Transistor’s Gary Olson and Julia Rydholm joining in on performances of “Suspicion” by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman and “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me” by Burt Bachrach and Hal David.

Comedian John Early then came back onstage to assist a rendition of the children’s Hanukkah song, “I Have A Little Dreidel.” Early remained for the night’s final song, the Rogers & Hart classic “Where Or When.”

Yo La Tengo’s Hanukkah run continues tonight, Friday, December 8. View audience-captured video footage from this year’s opening show at The Bowery below:

Richard Wolf (See 26 videos)
Yo La Tengo (See 107 videos) and The Sun Ra Arkestra (See 14 videos)

Richard Wolf (See 26 videos)
Yo La Tengo (See 107 videos)

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Setlist (via Frank & Earthy)

Set: My Little Corner of the World (Bob Hilliard & Lee Pockriss) (with Mark Luecke on whistling), Sinatra Drive Breakdown, Autumn Sweater, For You Too, Madeline, Lewis, Shaker, Don’t Have To Be So Sad, Dreaming (Sun Ra), Artificial Heart, Unmask the Batman (Sun Ra), Brain Capers, Emulsified (Rex Garvin & the Mighty Cravers), More Stars Than There Are In Heaven (boogie version), Nuclear War (Sun Ra)

Encore: Suspicion (Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman) (with Gary Olson [vocals/trumpet] & Julia Rydholm [keyboards] of Ladybug Transistor), (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me (Burt Bachrach & Hal David) (with GO & JR), I Have A Little Dreidel (Samuel S. Grossman & Samuel E. Goldfarb) (with John Early on vocals), Where Or When (Richard Rogers & Lorenz Hart) (with JD)


  • “Shaker” through “Nuclear War” with Sun Ra Arkestra horns: James Stewart (saxophone), Knoel Scott (saxophone), Cecil Brooks (trumpet), Dave Davis (trombone), Michael Ray (trumpet)
  • Opening act: Sun Ra Arkestra
  • Comedian: John Early
  • Mix CD: Clay Pigeon
  • Benefiting: Anera
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