Yo La Tengo with Cheap Time Saturday, October 9, 1009 The Ogden Theater Better Than: Dreams of flying
In concert footage, there are always people near the front, grinning like idiots and swaying back and forth. These people always look like hippies in the worst way. Meaning content to the point of delusion and almost certainly on hard drugs. I have never empathized with these people. But then, on a bitter October night, I walked into the Ogden and Yo La Tengo threw layer after layer of bliss on me, and I'm sure I was that guy.
In the few times I looked around at my fellow concert goers, I saw a bunch of people like me, delirious and practically floating. I saw many more just sort of standing, possible bored or possibly just in control of themselves. I'm telling you this right now so that you know - I don't think I had the typical experience at this concert. Take my opinions and ratchet them down several notches and that's probably closer to the consensus.
There was a fair portion of rawking, naturally, but New Jersey's second finest played a more subdued show than normal. Maybe they were going for cozy in deference to the too-cold-for-baseball weather. The jams were mostly atmospheric, heavy on hum and light on noise. They took my advice and played "Tom Courtenay," but it was during a mid-set acoustic breakdown, with Georgia Hubley out from behind the drums and bringing her favorite dance move (standing still) and sexy cleavage (I think her polo might have had two buttons undone. But she was also wearing a long-sleeve shirt, so it really didn't matter) center stage. Her voice, actually all of their voices, are waves of dreamy melody. It's part of the reason they can be so mesmerizing with so little onstage energy. One of the other reasons is their understanding of a repeated phrase, altered only slightly or layered with more repeated phrases, and how a simple line can go from nondescript to obnoxious to catchy to beautiful if you just keep playing it. Ira Kaplan did the band's only thrashing, and in all instances it felt completely justified by the rock and roll racket coming from his guitar. He had a little banter, but the band was characteristically pithy, often transitioning straight from song to song with no dead space, which helped maintain the atmosphere of the show. As much time spent in the clouds as possible. Take that either way.
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James McNew showed up as well. It's hard to write about this band's live show because so little happens up there that isn't about creating music. The most I can say about McNew is that he's larger than I expected (not fatter - simply large), and he is very good at playing guitar and bass. Not that Yo La Tengo's songs tend to be especially demanding technically, but there's something very satisfying about the way they shape song segments, about the surprising turns they take. McNew, like Kaplan and Hubley, knows how his part fits into the whole in a way you don't always get in a band. What I mean is they know when to do something really boring and make no effort to make it less so when that is what the song demands.
I started keeping a set list, but this band's catalog is just too deep. Add the hundreds of songs at their disposal to their tendency to reinvent the things live and the low vocals at the Ogden, and I was writing question marks by song four.
Critic's Notebook: Personal Bias: I, like most music writers, love Yo La Tengo a lot. Random Detail: "Sugarcube" was among the best live songs I've ever seen. By The Way: This band has a ridiculously polite fan base. Again, take that either way.