Friday, December 31, 2010

The Story of Yo La Tengo

Those of you who are devoted followers of this blog know that I feature a Yo La Tengo song every Friday.  This band really resonates with me, and not only because Ira Kaplan, the band's leader, is a big Mets fan, and the band's name happens to come from a classic story in Met lore (which Ira and former Met Ed Kranepool explain here).

Yo La Tengo combine an original, capitvating sound, great songwriting and an encyclopedic and enthsiastic knowledge of rock and pop music, with humor, irreverence, and passion.  Based in Hoboken, New Jersey, YLT consists of Kaplan on vocals and guitar, his wife Georgia Hubley on drums and vocals, and since 1992, James McNew on bass and vocals.

Their "8 Nights of Hannukah" tradition at Maxwell's in Hoboken encapsulates their generous spirit, sense of fun and stellar musicianship.  (I wish I could have been there).  Each show includes a comedian to open, and a wide array of musical guest stars (The National and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy appeared this year).  As described in The Jersey Journal, the "deadpan trio's experimental yet harmonious cornucopia of shoegaze, noise, toe-tapping pop, lo-fi and even rhythm and blues" perform while the menorah sits atop the speakers, candlelight flickering against the red of the curtains shrouded in a wall of sound," with "fan requests each night determining a charity that will benefit from the proceeds."

Their website explains the parameters of their upcoming tour, which includes spinning a carnival wheel to determine each night's first set, that could include Q's & A's from the crowd, the band and crew acting out a classic sitcom, or a setlist with only songs starting with "S."  But, to be sure, the band is not just about gimmicks.  YLT boasts, as one music critic put it, "adventurous eclecticism, defiant independence, and restless creative ambition."  They have "explored the extremes of feedback-driven noise rock and sweetly melodic pop, shading its work with equal parts scholarly composure and fannish enthusiasm."  Ira Kaplan has described the band's process of songwriting as starting with a long jam, finding a song within the jam, and only then figuring out the song on acoustic guitar.  They are sort of like a jazz band that doesn't play jazz.

My initial foray into the band's music was their album Fakebook, released in 1990, which includes several covers of mostly obscure (at least to me) songs, as well as some great originals.  Fakebook is perhaps Yo La Tengo at their most accessible, and a great place to start.  After that, my favorites include, but are not limited to:  I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One (1997), I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (2006), And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (2000), and Painful (1993), as well as their latest Popular Songs (2009).  

Check them out -- or just tune in here on Fridays.  [Related posts:  If It's Friday It Must Be . . . Yo La Tengo -- Mr. Tough, The Summer, I Feel Like Going Home, Today Is The Day, Sugarcube, Tom Courtenay, Here to Fall, Autumn Sweater, Femme Fatale, Our Way to Fall]


Post a Comment