Yo La Tengo at First Avenue, 2/4/13

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Erik Hess
Yo La Tengo
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Monday, February 4, 2013

New Jersey indie rock pioneers Yo La Tengo's performance Monday at First Avenue had a very "ripped from the headlines" feel. It's unusual for the prima donna rock star to acknowledge that anything else in the world is happening the night of one of their shows, but modest-spoken Ira Kaplan was more than happy to crack wise about being in Minneapolis the same day as Barack Obama. "I want to thank you for coming here," he said. "You could've gone to the ball game across the street, or gone to cheer the president."

Kaplan made that statement while he was still seated on a stool for the more staid of two sets the evening had to offer. Later on, he theatrically choked lengthy passages of feedback out of his guitar and swung his body through so many exaggerated poses, it almost felt like he was compensating for not being the U.S. chief of staff. 

See Also:
Slideshow: Yo La Tengo at First Avenue, 2/4/13
Yo La Tengo biographer shares the band's not-so-lurid secrets

But these outside details mattered little to the quietly fervent crowd. Kaplan, drummer first lady Georgia Hubley, and secretary of bass James McNew built up a night to be cherished in local Yo La Tengo lore by forgoing an opener, playing a quiet set followed by a distinctively louder one, and notching about three hours onstage.

"Nothing ever stays the same," they sang together on a delicate take on "Ohm" the standout track from their two-week-old Fade. ("The statute of limitations on calling it new hasn't run out yet," Kaplan noted.) Lined up straight across the front of the stage, they played almost daintily on a dim set with a trio of cut-out wooden trees behind them, and pulled the almost silent audience crowd closer to catch every detail.

Photos by Erik Hess
And that "Ohm" lyric proved to be the theme of the night in big ways and small as nearly every song had a slightly different configuration, and Kaplan kept his guitar tech busy with requests for new guitars. With "Two Trains," a gauzy, slow beach jam, the excited tension in the room ratcheted up even further as Hubley displayed her cool, breathy pipes as snow fell outside.

"We played this song in the Entry in '85 when we were opening for Soul Asylum," Kaplan said jovially to introduce Fakebook original "Did I Tell You." And Hubley caught him, "Eh, I think it was later..." No matter, as they settled into mellow version -- Kaplan singing intimately and Hubley with brushes on her drums. Continuing on a less-traveled path, the I Shot Andy Warhol soundtrack rarity "Demons" reverberated next, and reminded us that Hubley sings with far more range of expression than Nico ever could. Next, the psychedelic new track "The Point of It" was one of the understated pleasures of the entire evening.

By this point, the crowd's ingested liquor was starting to take effect. They stayed generally polite, but each break between a quiet number to follow was punctuated by more yells than the one before it. YLT stayed focused, and eased into two more from the delicious Fade -- the gorgeous winter beauty "Cornelia and Jane," and then the droning, Nick Drake-ish "I'll Be Around."

"We're going to do a couple more, do some housekeeping, and play some more," Kaplan said genially. Then, a drunken fan tried to get McNew's attention and got the response, "I'm kinda doing something right now." And what they did was wrap the set with the swelling 1995's "Tom Courtnenay" and folkies rejoiced as McNew closed things out singing lead powerfully on "Black Flowers," one of the choicest I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass standouts.

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