Yo La Tengo at The Vic Theatre, Chicago, Il, November 5 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo at The Vic Theatre, Chicago, Il, November 5,

Nov 17, 2015 Photography by Joan Moon Web Exclusive
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The hackneyed phrase often lobbed at slow, subtly evolving music is that listening to it is akin to watching paint dry; absorbing Yo La Tengo’s largely acoustic performance at the Vic Theatre, then, was more like trying to lap up every last droplet of an ice cream cone melting all too rapidly. With the band having celebrated their 30th anniversary just last year, it can be comforting to think of them as indie rock’s sole constant. However, it becomes difficult to take their consistency for granted when they’re capable of making it sound this precious.

The performance featured James McNew on stand up bass, Georgia Hubley making the most of a simplified kit, and a casually strumming Ira Kaplan handing lead guitar duties over to Dave Schramm. A onetime member of Yo La Tengo who was recently welcomed back into the fold for this year’s lovely Stuff Like That There, Schramm produced a remarkable range of fluid, delicate textures. The evening was divided into two album-length sets, both of which drew heavily from the slow and mid-tempo covers and reimagined originals that populate both Stuff Like That There and 1990’s Fakebook.

And so with incomparable care and veneration, this four-piece incarnation of Yo La Tengo flowed effortlessly from Cat Stevens (“Here Comes My Baby”) and The Cure (“Friday I’m in Love”) to Sun City Girls (“Radio Morocco”) and The Velvet Underground (“Over You”). A balance of awe and yearning coursed through their placid folk-pop groove, and the resulting atmosphere was as intimate as anything they’ve captured on record (one impressive exception-a McNew-led take on Minutemen’s “Corona,” which rose to a cartoonish yet controlled fever pitch, slyly proving just how airtight this quartet can be).

Perhaps most touching were the tender explorations of classics from Yo la Tengo’s own canon. Unsurprisingly, we were treated to a gentle reworking of “Deeper into Movies,” which achieved a stargazing splendor. Equally noteworthy, though, was a soft-focus take on the Electr-O-Pura favorite “Tom Courtenay,” sung by Hubley and laying bare the vulnerability that’s at the song’s core.

Despite the performance’s languid pace and ample duration (easily over two hours with no opening act), the night somehow slipped away at an alarming speed. Throughout, the band was as humble and melodically generous as we’ve come to expect, but wholly reverent of their own matchless synchronicity. Each of the 20-some songs performed seeming to pulse with an awareness of just how fragile that dynamic is, and the knowledge that even the strongest chemistry will someday dissipate. Yo La Tengo’s mutual devotion to sustaining a mood of hushed tranquility had an unusually poignant undercurrent, reinforced by a fine cover choice on the more obscure end of the spectrum, “Before We Stopped to Think,” from ‘80s jangle-pop philosophers Great Plains (“We stopped to catch our breath/And we stopped fearing our death/That’s when we died”).

“Ohm,” which received a soporific rendering near the end of the second set, best articulated the wisdom gleaned from three decades of a beatific commitment to a shared vision. Though an encore followed (including a charmingly off-the-cuff version of Fakebook‘s “Griselda”), a stanza from that Fade cut provided a rather pertinent closing statement: “But nothing ever stays the same/Nothing’s explained/The longer it takes, the looser the ties/Cause this is it for all we know/So say good night to me/And lose no more time, no time/Resisting the flow.”


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