Corner Hotel, 09/03/2014
“We noticed Yo La Tengo were doing two sets tonight, a quiet one and a louder one.” observes Dick Diver guitarist and singer Al Montfort. “We've stolen enough from them in the past so we thought we steal that idea too.”
In acoustic mode, the four-piece open with one of their earliest songs Walk For Room, the 12-string acoustic guitar and jar of pistachios as percussion lends their songs an even humbler sound. “I'm even more Tracey Chapman than Tracey Chapman!” laughs Steph Hughes, who, despite her fears, sounds like no one but Steph Hughes. Plugging in and switching instruments, the band move from such crackers as Water Damage, Lime Green Shirt, the prophetic Gap Life (‘Today Tonight will be gone tomorrow’) and New Start Again, before closing with Calendar Days. Responding to recent online labeling by describing their sound as “jobwave” or “zumba-wave”, whatever it is, it’s worth catching.
Opening with Ohm, the first of many songs from last year's career high point, Fade, Yo La Tengo ease comfortably into a rhythmic and spacious set. Acoustic guitar, brushed drums and throbbing bass underpin their sparse, floating melodies. From Black to Blur and Is That Enough follow and the propulsive rhythms cast their spell. Locking in and zoning out, Yo La Tengo’s songs occupy strange real estate. Sublime and bewitching takes on Fog Over Frisco, Cornelia and Jane, and Tom Courtney they seem to enter the brain by a sixth sense. With a near total lack of dynamic shifts, songs drift past with distant lyrics and stumbling lead guitar parts, odd for a band celebrating their 30th year in the game.
Most of Fade that wasn’t reinterpreted in the first set is thoroughly ripped apart in the second. The odd magic continues with opener Stupid Things. A gorgeous version of Autumn Sweater and hypnotic take on Ohm aside, this set comprises ‘songs’ that are merely suggestions for the opening minute or two before they’re reduced to a metronomic beat, three bass notes and guitarist (and cross between Ben Lee and Geoffrey Rush) Ira Kaplan’s effects-heavy free-forming. In the hands of a more sensitive (Neil Young), smarter (Robert Fripp) or bolder (Tom Verlaine) guitarist, substituting in-album subtlety for extended jams can be mesmerizing. Kaplan’s lack of imagination ages fast.
Decora, Before We Run, and new single Super Kiwi are all deconstructed in this ultimately disappointing way that only highlights the importance of production and editing in their recordings. Instrumental parts, vocal melodies, and lyrics – the pieces are wonderful, that they are sacrificed over and over for Kaplan’s aimless rambling is frustrating. Closing with a mammoth take of I Heard You Looking, its phenomenally evocative riff highlights the strongest and laziest traits of this most obdurate of bands.