May 18, 2001

Me llamo middle-aged, sweater-clad indie rock

Due to circumstances beyond my control (okay, it was a lack of automotive transportation, if you must know), I arrived at the very tail end of Eleventh Dream Day's set, effectively missing both opening acts. But it turned out to be a mixed blessing; mixed because although I was genuinely upset at having missed one of Eleventh Dream Day's few live appearances, I was relieved at the end of Yo La Tengo's whopping, near two-hour set that my legs didn't have to endure a minute longer.

For those unfamiliar with Yo La Tengo (I only own I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, although I've heard most of their other albums at one point or another), their live show can be an exceedingly odd and occasionally intimidating experience. Long, subdued jams morph, without warning, into split-the-heavens squalls of guitar fury. Frontman Ira Kaplan is almost as schizophrenic as the music, one minute passionately gripping the microphone, the next turned away from the audience, gently swaying to the steady drumbeat.

But it is this dichotomy that forms the heart of Yo La Tengo and makes them such a phenomenally engaging listening experience, both on record and live. So it was particularly disappointing to hear their most recent album. While it was hailed by many critics as an emotional and mature (read: somber) departure from their prior work, it actually stripped Yo La Tengo of their greatest strength: their ability to balance more audacious noise experiments with sublime, timeless melodies. And it was precisely this tension that made their albums exciting propositions. And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out was, by those standards, a shell of an LP, rarely displaying the range Yo La Tengo is capable of. That's not to say Inside Out was a bad album, it just would have been a much more well-rounded work if they'd chosen to throw in a few curve balls.

Live, however, Yo La Tengo own the place. I had never seen them perform onstage, and I'd chickened out twice before. The first time because it was an acoustic, sit-down affair. (That was in support of Inside Out.) For reasons already stated, I didn't feel compelled to attend. The second opportunity involved an exceptionally long car ride, and, although it was a plugged-in date, it was still technically in support of Inside Out. Again, I passed. But this most recent Noise Pop appearance was both in town and not in support of Inside Out. Too good for me to pass up.

Although they did play a good portion of the material from their most recent effort, it hardly overwhelmed the mammoth performance. (Like I said, it was almost two hours.) And the band seemed to be in fine spirits throughout, perhaps because they're currently taking an extended rest before tackling their next album. Kaplan even took a request from the audience, although he declined others afterward saying, "Most of these guitars are only tuned to play one song." The highlight of the night was the band's inspired and very percussion-heavy take on "Autumn Sweater." The result wouldn't have been out of place at a dance club. Even their more indulgent, longer compositions rarely outstayed their welcome. In fact, many of them eventually broke into straight-ahead rockers.

As Yo La Tengo wound up their epic set, which saw them span the length of their career, they left no lingering doubt. One of indie rock's grandfather acts is also one of its most vital assets.