Review: Yo La Tengo at 2011 Westword Music Showcase, 6/18/11

YO LA TENGO at #WMS11 | 06.18.11

"After two or three songs, Ira Kaplan said there were notes all over the stage saying not to use profanity and that if that were the case, they had nothing left to play."

Opening with "Big Day Coming," Yo La Tengo got to play a full set uninterrupted by the rain that threatened to dump for much of the afternoon. The song's crackling, ascending, cycling drone and referencing being "on the outside" and not caring because "we're together, that's somewhere," then later singing about turning up the amps and waking up the neighbors seemed appropriate enough for the show at hand.

After two or three songs, Ira Kaplan said there were notes all over the stage saying not to use profanity and that if that were the case, they had nothing left to play. Of course he was kidding and the band continued on with its set and played a couple of the band's more R&B-inflected material with Kaplan at the piano singing and telling us they would play a couple of dance songs. The first of these was the Motown-esque "If It's True." During the second song, "Mr. Tough," the band stopped right before the end of the song. A blue blow-up ball that had been making the rounds in the crowd earlier in the show had made its way to the stage, at which point James McNew and Kaplan took the opportunity to play with it a little during the short break, and McNew announced, "I get it. It's totally fun."

During "Deeper Into Movies," Kaplan entered one of the instrumental passages with such a fury that it seemed to also wind him up as he returned to the mike, threatening to tip the song into chaos. The actual chaos came later in the set. Of course everyone knew "Sugarcube," and there was no shortage of people singing along.

Appropriately enough, "Little Honda," also from 1997's I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One followed "Sugarcube." As that song appeared to come to a close, the whole band shifted gears and Georgia Hubley kept the core of the rhythm together with a bit of assistance from McNew, while Kaplan used his guitar to create eruptive feedback with strategic placement near the amp while manipulating his pedals. Kaplan then held his guitar like a battle axe and created a seething white noise. At some point he left his guitar on the amp and casually took some pulls from his beer, before picking his guitar back up and going right back into "Little Honda" to finish it off.

Earlier in the set Kaplan had threatened to play Sun Ra's "Nuclear War" at the end if they had time to do an encore because it might contain "naughty" words like the M-F-bomb multiple times. But, unfortunately, that didn't happen. In the end, Yo La Tengo closed its set on a quiet and somber but delicately powerful note with Hubley taking on lead vocals -- a rare treat a more original way to end a show than with some kind of histrionic bang.

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