Yo La Tengo in The Olympia Theatre, Dublin, on Saturday 28th April 2018
Records of various sizes, RPMs and designs hang on strings from the gods in The Olympia Theatre, suspended above the heads of Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew and painted all the colours and variations of Yo La Tengo’s own kaleidoscope, encyclopaedic musical experiences. Fifteen albums in, and with countless releases around those core records, the Haboken trio have marked themselves out as one of the more musically literate bands of the last thirty years, as adept as reinterpreting others’ material as they are at producing stellar sounds of their own.
As such, a Yo La Tengo show generally means a compendium of classics and covers alongside whatever new songs the band have on the go – in this instance it’s the just-released ‘There’s A Riot Going On’ material that receives a welcome airing over this bipartite set. An all-seated show makes for a largely sedate first half, although the band frequently incites their own quiet riot onstage. Kaplin and McNew lay out a drone on instrumental opener You Are Here, while Hubley shakes, chimes, and taps out the percussive elements. Kaplin’s guitar suddenly screams through the drone, emitting high-pitched whines while McNew joins Hubley at the drums to tie it all together with a backbeat.
Whether it’s with sticks or brushes, on skins or on steel, Hubley’s percussive textures provide the frame on which Kaplin hangs his more experimental guitar freak-outs, but no-one in the band is tethered to any one instrument. It’s all about the overall effect – all hands on everything necessary to create the mood and focus the attention, whether it’s with dual drummers or simply Kaplin leaving his keyboard to walk over, lift a drumstick and hit the cymbal a single ping once in each verse as Hubley sings out front. A simple cymbal tap, maybe, but essential to Yo La Tengo – they’re all about attention to detail, down to the flashing LED balloons attached to Hubley’s kit that activate whenever a cymbal is struck.
Opting to play one of their self-proclaimed classier numbers in recognition of the ornate surroundings of the venue, Kaplin tells of being offered thousands for the use of I’ll Be Around from 2013’s ‘Fade’ for a TV ad (“If you keep your ears glued to a television…you won’t be hearing it“). The room is completely hushed for these quieter songs – a trend through the entire set – and Kaplin’s melodic, discordant picking on acoustic flits from free-form improvisation into country blues, all anchored by McNew’s two-note bass riff.
A post-intermission Flying Lesson (Hot Chicken #1) from 1995’s ‘Electr-O-Pura’ is where the set changes up in gear most overtly, the undulating groan of Kaplin’s guitar that bit more full-on as he wrings all sorts of noise from the Fender’s neck. A cover of The Clean’s Gentle Hour is equally savage, with McNew this time scouring the higher end of the fretboard as Kaplin bangs on the keys. After a pregnant pause towards the coda, Kaplin smashes one of the over-hanging records with his mic. The tone now set, momentum is maintained with the ensuing Nothing To Hide and the band flex their muscle as a full-tilt power trio.
Despite the ace cards the band always have in reserve – Stockholm Syndrome, with Kaplin’s screamer of a solo against McNew’s gentle falsetto, and Autumn Sweater – it’s the three-song encore that leaves the lasting impression. “Why don’t we do Alternative TV?” Kaplin asks, playing Action Time Vision and following up with another cover, Gene Clark’s Tried So Hard. Hubley comes out to the front of the stage to share vocals with Kaplin on the latter, but the final moment of the night belongs to her alone. ‘Electr-O-Pura’ track Tom Courtenay, just Hubley’s voice and her bandmates’ low-key accompaniment, is simply the set’s most beautiful moment – one final, classy number to leave hanging in the air in one of Dublin’s loveliest venues.
Read our review of ‘There’s A Riot Going On’ here.