Yo La Tengo Show Considerable Range in Two-Set Show at Brooklyn Steel
March 20, 2023
Yo La Tengo – Brooklyn Steel – March 18, 2023
I’m not sure the old adage “in like a lion, out like a lamb” still holds up in our current age of climate change, but some version of it could be used to describe Yo La Tengo’s live show. No band can do both the quiet softness of a lamb and the fanged ferocity of a lion quite like the indie veterans, which makes March the perfect month for them to be touring. Their good-to-be-home New York City stop was a two-set “evening with” affair Saturday night in front of a sold-out Brooklyn Steel, the second set billed as the “loud set” on the flyers at the entrance, but both sets featured plenty of lions and lambs.
The tour is in support of Yo La Tengo’s latest release, This Stupid World, and Saturday’s show would end up featuring nearly all the tracks on the critically acclaimed album, beginning with its opening song, “Sinatra Drive Breakdown.” Georgia Hubley’s drums were appropriately loud, the shared vocals were soft and it built to a guitar meltdown, Ira Kaplan playing his instrument like a child at the old game Operation, but instead of avoiding the buzz-shock edges he reveled in the imprecision. The first 20+ minutes showed YLT’s considerable range, the following “Tonight’s Episode” sank into a Sun Ra space-jazz, bassist James McNew on vocals, Kaplan moving to keys, then the 30-year-old “Swing for Life” sounding equally as fresh, a psychedelic-folk, drums, bass and guitar meshing perfectly, dappled yellow lights on the wall like sun through the branches on a dreamy afternoon walk through the woods. The remainder of the set was filled with puffy lambs, new ones, like “Aselestine,” meshing with back-catalog favorites, like “The Crying of Lot G,” with the lyric “Expecting a whisper / I heard the slam of a door” a pretty good summation of the show.
The second act opened with the new album’s title track, a snarling lion with McNew now on drums and Kaplan waving around his guitar like it were a net used net to capture untamed beasts of feedback and distortion. With barely a pause between songs, Yo La Tengo treated the audience to what felt like a barrage of greatest hits old and new. “Moby Octopad” rode McNew’s stoic bass to some serious funk, “Fallout” was the pure uncut in-your-face rock of a band that’s been doing it for decades, the following “The Story of Jazz” doubling down, a pride of lions in pursuit of prey. The biggest cheers of the night were for “Autumn Sweater” and “Ohm” in the latter half of the set, both characterized by mesmerizing rhythms from Hubley, each a loud song layered directly on top of a quiet one, or maybe vice versa. The set-ending “Blue Line Swinger” featured an extended instrumental churn and multiple explosions of guitar, Kaplan now wielding his like a battle axe making sure the “loud set” earned its name in the end, then grabbed a second guitar for another solo for good measure. The three-song encore featured “New York” songs for the hometown faithful, including their take on the Blondie screamer “Dreaming” making way for one final lamb to go out on, Hubley singing the Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning,” a perfect end to a perfect Saturday night. —A. Stein | @Neddyo
Photos courtesy of Ellen Qbertplaya | @Qbertplaya