Live Review: Yo La Tengo…

Category: Blog — @ 12:35 pm October 9, 2006

I don’t know how to lead this — I’ve been waiting for this show for a decade and finally, here it was. I was halfway afraid that no one would show up, this being Omaha, and this band being somewhat unknown due to the city’s lack of a college radio station. But my city didn’t disappoint me, and lo and behold, the Underground was sold out, packed with people that were, for the first time in recent memory, closer to my age than what you’d find at a typical indie show. Lots of old guys in graying ponytails, lots of middle-aged couples out for a wild night, and yes, also lots of young, urban indie fans paying homage to these legends, though overall, a completely different audience than, say, at a typical Creek show.

It was nice to see the entire band sitting behind the merch table while opening act, Why?, played their set of middle-of-the-road indie pop sung by a guy who sounded like John Flansburgh from They Might be Giants. Ira, looking like a cross between SNL’s Chris Parnell and monologist Eric Bogosian, even sold me my YLT T-shirt ($11, cheap!).

What to say about the show? Two hours, three encores, selections from throughout their catalog. Don’t ask me the songs’ names, because I don’t know them. There were a couple from the new record, including “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind,” and “Mr. Tough.” A throbbing version of “Big Day Coming,” an ironically appropriate (if only because North Korea was probably preparing to test their first nuke at the time), revelatory take on “Nuclear War” (I didn’t realize that James McNew sung the lead), and a couple long, droning jams that were 20 minutes of throbbing organ and shrieking feedback guitar. Between it all were interspersed a few quiet songs featuring Georgia on vocals sounding like Nico, including encore “Tom Courtenay.”

This band is forever compared to Velvet Underground, and for good reason. Ira has the same, flat monotone voice as Lou Reed, Georgia vocally resembles Nico, and some of their music is reminiscent of VU’s live recordings, but really, no one sounds like YLT to me. Their style is all over the board, from raging indie jams to urban, falsetto R&B to quiet, acoustic ballads. For someone of diminutive size, Georgia Hubley was a monster behind the drum kit, joined at times on a second drum set by McNew, who also manned keyboards when he wasn’t on bass. The bass, incidentally, was numbingly loud. The set started tolerable; but after a few songs, I put in my earplugs, and by the end, the earplugs weren’t enough, especially from the front of the house. I don’t know how people standing next to me by the stack who didn’t have earplugs could take the noise level.

Among Ira’s between-song snappy patter: He acknowledged that last night was the first time YLT had ever been in Nebraska (though he admitted that he lied to one of the local journalists (who? wasn’t me) by telling him/her that they played in Lincoln before). He took a shot at the Omaha World-Herald when he introduced a Ramones cover: “I read in your paper — in one of the few articles that wasn’t about your football team — that today is Johnny Ramone’s birthday.” He asked the audience if they had any questions. Someone asked if the band would ever return to Omaha. “Well, we haven’t left yet,” Ira said, then added. “It’s too early to say.” Chances are, after last night’s show, they’ll probably return, but it could take another 20 years. For me, a top-five show of the year.

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