Meltdown 09 @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London,
15 June 2009
is New Jersey trio Yo La Tengo's 25th year in existence,
a longevity you'd be hard pushed to find anywhere else within
the fickle indie scene.
never achieving mass success they've certainly garnered
critical acclaim and attracted a loyal band of followers,
many of whom squeeze into the confines of the Queen Elizabeth
Hall tonight. This year's Meltdown festival curator, free
jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman, is also clearly
a fan having invited them along to play.
Ira Kaplan (acoustic lead), Georgia Hubley (drums/vocals)
and James McNew (bass) sit down at their instruments for
the touching acoustic opener, and follow this with the equally
mellow Black Flowers. While you can hear within their sound
echoes of the past, Simon And Garfunkel
especially, you can also detect how they in turn shaped
what came after. Belle And Sebastian and
Kings Of Convenience, for instance, both
seem to have taken a large note out of the Yo La Tengo book
to craft their fragile, wistful sounds.
then tells the audience that they are here more to answer
questions rather than play music but were warned the London
audience might be too reticent. This acts as the proverbial
red rag and the audience pipe up en masse. Someone asks
who Yo La Tengo's, harder, rockier alter egos, the Condo
Fucks are, which provides the perfect launchpad
for the trio to air one of the Fucks' tracks, a burst of
shouted rock and roll.
question triggers a cover version of Velvet Underground's
I Found A Reason while the next inspires the band to play
their gentle, gorgeously wistful Dreaming. When the audience
participation doesn't work out though, the results are often
hilarious. Like when Kaplan confides that he once fainted
in a hot spring once, only to have his story interrupted
by a man who declares, "I fainted on a bus once! In
GREECE!". Or when another audience member with his
arm around his girlfriend states, "Anna and I enjoy
most of our intimate moments to your music. What music does
it for you?", to make the room both collectively cringe
and burst out laughing.
While there is a delicate sensitivity to tracks like Autumn
Sweater, the Hoboken-based threesome flit between many styles,
such as on new track Periodically Double Or Triple. It's
a bluesy, '60s-style song that somehow manages to drop in
a reference to Judge Judy.
Many more audience enquiries are fielded entertainingly
between songs, but it's not an approach appreciated by all,
with one girl impatiently screaming "PLAY!" repeatedly
at the top of her voice. The Q&A format may encourage
the geeks and self-made comedians to take over but how else
could we have discovered if Yo La Tengo like cricket, what
their favourite album cover is or whether they've ever been
to the Antarctic?
airing of the joyfully upbeat, falsetto-led Mr Tough leads
up to a powerful encore. This includes one of the stand
out performances of the night, as Hubley adds her vocals
to the beautiful simplicity of Nowhere Near. A cover of
The Kinks' God's Children then brings the
night to an end, and a deserved ovation.
Yo La Tengo are the perfect indie band for both critics
and fans alike as they've never made it big enough to be
dismissed as a sell out. But you do get the distinct feeling
after having heard the strength in depth of their material
during tonight's gig that after a quarter of a century,
they surely deserve to get their big break and wider audience
before the next 25 years pass by.
- Ian Roullier, 06/2009