Persistence of Consistence: Yo La Tengo at the Teragram Ballroom
Yo La Tengo are the type of band that screams road trip music to me. You feel their sound more than you hear it. Angelic emotion runs through their balancing of rhythmic melancholy and sprinkles of sonic hope. It’s the type of music you put on in the background before merging onto the freeway and zoning out so completely, you feel like a machine.
House parties are another great venue for Yo La Tengo music, I would imagine, as the vibe seamlessly blends in with the casual ambiance and physical bodies chatting and standing around. Some people might sit on the couch, or lay on the floor passed out with a warm Michelob Ultra as “Dream Dream Away” hums on in the ether.
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All appropriate scenarios for Yo La Tengo experiences. But seeing them live at a venue? I’m not sure. Maybe I’m horribly out of shape, getting old or just plain lame, but half way through the show I was desperate for a couch and/or recess. The lullabies were lulling me to sleep. But it was so goddamn beautiful. I absorbed the pain, and bit my lip remembering how fortunate I was to be there.
YLT are fearless in their musical executions, but at the same time thoughtful and restrained about what they choose to invoke. When I caught them at the Teragram recently, I was drawn in but realized later I came in the wrong state of mind. I always go to a show thinking “this better be more amazing than anything I’ve ever heard from them ever,” which is unreasonable for a number of reasons.
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Number one not every band can be better than their albums because there are so many different kinds of albums. Some make you wanna rage, some make you wanna curl up in a ball and cry your eyes out. YLT falls somewhere in the middle, their songs themselves are painfully consistent. Like a friend who you know’s gonna say something offensive when he walks into the room.
Only YLT didn’t offend me, or anyone at the show because they delivered exactly what we wanted. I just had unrealistic expectations. Hard to believe singer/guitarist Ira Kaplan is 60 given how he whined and wained his amp’s feedback distortion for 20 minutes straight like a tone deaf Jimi Hendrix. But it was off-key on purpose though, right? Bad-ass female drummer Georgia Hubley and bassist James McNew stayed in the pocket and held it down the entire time, just like they’ve done together since 1992. They played two separate sets with a short intermission in-between. Toward the end of their second set they started to rock hard. The crowd still didn’t move though, because why would they do that?
Whenever I see a concert I fantasize about what the same concert would be like in a different country. Would the crowd be dancing to Yo La Tengo in Spain or would they still be glued to their phones and personal feelings like they are in America? I wanted so badly to let loose during the upbeat tunes but was forced to restrain myself because of the omnipresent sardine-in-a-tin-can-type conditions. In a perfect world Americans would be dancing and swaying and holding hands and walking in circles at a Yo La Tengo concert. Maybe they were in 1997, I was too young then. There was a good mix of diversity in the crowd, though, and it’s always cool to see music cross generational boundaries.
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I left the concert feeling better than before I arrived. I always learn something from a show, and this time I learned to remember who you’re going to see. Not everyone can be a chameleon show-stopper who’s constantly evolving and changing form. Some artists ride through the years as a slow burn, adapting to the changing landscape but retaining their original trademark flair. Their style is unmistakeable and nostalgic of some of my favorite 80s and 90s bands. I recommend seeing them live, just drink some coffee beforehand.
Words and Photos by: Travis Beck