For their current tour, Yo La Tengo is splitting shows into two parts. The first part is mainly acoustic, and the second is electric. Knowing this, I was pleased when they opened their show at the Michigan Theater on Feb. 8 with an acoustic version of “Ohm,” the opening track from their new album “Fade.” I was even more pleased when they played the song again for their electric set.
Normally, playing the same song twice would seem dull and lazy. “Ohm,” however, is worth being played twice. It perfectly sums up Yo La Tengo’s sound as a whole. Their music has always ranged from noise-rock to dream-pop; sometimes, it becomes hard to differentiate the two.
“Ohm” is an example of that. It’s gorgeous, but the guitars are far from clean. Opening with an acoustic version of the song, the beauty was what stood out. I’ve listened to “Fade” more than any album this year, and the lyrics have never touched me as much as they did here. When they played the song electrically later on, the noise was what stood out.
After finishing the acoustic set with a nice version of “Tom Courtenay,” they took a break.
When the band came back on for the electric set, they began with “Stupid Things.” It was pretty and, admittedly, probably would have been more fitting for the acoustic part of the show. If anything, though, this was just a warm-up for the awesomeness that came next: A noisy punk rock cover of Neil Young’s “Time Fades Away.” It was long, crazy, filled with solos and, by the end, it had the entire crowd in applause. This cover was easily the best performance of the night.
Despite not topping this cover, the rest of the show was solid. “Is That Enough” was fantastic (of course), “Mr. Tough” had an entire row of audience members dancing, “From a Motel 6” proved to be as much of a masterpiece as ever, and they ended the set with “Blue Line Swinger,” as if trying to confuse the hell out of the
audience. They walked offstage, and the crowd proceeded to cheer, pound on the stage and scream for more.
The band walked back on stage for their encore. As soon as Georgia Hubley sat behind her drums, James McNew picked up his bass and Ira Kaplan sat behind the keyboards, I had a gut-feeling that “Moby Octopad” was coming. McNew began playing the bass line, and it was magical.
One of the many things I love about Kaplan is that, despite the fact that he knows how to rock, he continually reveals himself as the rock journalist that he started out as. If you’ve listened to the early Yo La Tengo albums, you know that they’re masters at making noise. Still, as their repertoire of cover songs shows, Kaplan is a complete music geek who will pass over covering “Sweet Jane” and move right to “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’.”
This was shown when, during the encore, the band performed two Kinks covers, “Big Sky” and “This is Where I Belong.” Along with an earlier performance of “Oklahoma, U.S.A.,” this made three Kinks covers throughout the night (“We rarely perform multiple covers by the same band in one show,” Kaplan said, “so, tonight, how about we do three by the Kinks?”).
After “This is Where I Belong,” the band walked off the stage again, and the crowd had the same reaction as before. They cheered, they pounded on the stage and they screamed for more. And their wish was (again) granted when the group walked back out for two more songs. For the final two, they performed a cover of a song called “Get Down” by a ’60s group called Half Life, as well as a version of “I Feel Like Going Home” that Kaplan claimed was different than they’d ever played it before.
The show lived up to my extremely high expectations. The crowd was wonderful, even cheering extra loud every time Hubley sang lead, while the band mixed new classics from “Fade” with older songs that have become their standards.
My only complaint was the lack of songs from “I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One.” I didn’t expect to hear “Center of Gravity” (my favorite song by them), but it would have been nice to hear “Autumn
Sweater” (everyone else’s), or maybe “Stockholm Syndrome.”
When walking to the theater, my friend and I began talking to a man
who was going in the same direction. I told him we were going to see Yo La Tengo, to which he asked what genre of music they played.
Responding the only way I really could, I said, “Indie.”
“Oh,” he said. “Indie’s coming back now, huh?”
To him, I say that indie never left, and as Yo La Tengo proved that
night, it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.