Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Dancing in Place
review of the show.
The first time I saw Yo La Tengo, I was 24. My big sister who was a big fan, took me by subway out to Hoboken, NJ to a tiny club where they played a hometown show. I observed the crowd dancing inside of their shoes while their shoes remained plastered to the concrete floor we were standing on (or was it wooden?). The dance in place thing people do. I had just left BR for NY, and I was struck by how 'cool' the crowd played it at shows, struck by people's lack of uninhibited enjoyment. Dancing inhibitions anywhere in south LA were a foreign concept.
As we headed back into Manhattan, my first late-night subway traveling, my sister said, "Don't they make you want to dance?" Yo La Tengo didn't strike the right chord with me until several years later, but I got how they could strike that chord in others. I could appreciate the noisy, electric energy that Kaplan, McNew and Hubley put out. I appreciated it enough to wonder why the majority of the audience, presumably more dedicated fans than I, weren't moving more.
That was 11 years ago, and now, I often find myself inhibited, dancing in shoes that won't lift off the ground. Occasionally, I stumble upon a show where the band's music thrashes off the stage and out of amplifiers, reaches under my skin and into my bones.
Sometimes, I still move.
Friday, I expected the music to creep inside of me, to move me with greater pleasure than it does when Yo La Tengo, through a pair of earbuds, is my running partner. Seeing the 8 or so guitars racked up beside the stage, I felt certain I was in for greatness. But through the entire set and the encore (a cover of Bob Dylan's "I Wanna Be Your Lover" and my favorite moment of the show), I found myself doing that drab dance in place thing.
They started with a lengthy, psychedelic spewing of guitar and drum cacophony that quieted the crowd and prepared us for something bouncier, more upbeat, still guitar-heavy and just as energetic, but, in terms of the emotive sensation, with less underlying intensity and more underlying fun. Like, "Okay crowd, we've commanded your attention, now get ready for elation." Instead, the set didn't flow. Yo La Tengo continually moved from feedback-heavy and distorted into quiet crooning and back again into distortion with no rhyme or reason.
Pareti says there was a "deliberate progression to the set." I agree with his overview of that progression (guitar-heavy to synth-heavy to acoustic). However, within this progression, the particular song selections didn't flow, and the transition from one style to the next was nonexistent. Here is a mildly academic and anecdotal comparison: In freshman composition classes, students' essays will sometimes contain all of the right organizational components- an intro paragraph, 3 body paragraphs and a conclusion. But the sentence arrangement within each paragraph is not as logical or nuanced as it needs to be. Likewise, transitional statements are either awkward and choppy or missing all together. Here is a more crude simile, and what I found myself thinking at the show: It was like not finding the right rhythm with a parter even though you are both desperately trying to find it. Bad sex, both parties totally self-aware.
Yo La Tengo played a majority of songs off of their new album Popular Songs. I'll admit, I haven't found it to be my favorite, though Pitchfork's review can't stop praising the new album. I do love the first track "Here to Fall" which echoes back to, and seems a more pulsating, electro-ethereal and more optimistic continuation of "Our Way to Fall."
I fully expected to hear live, what wasn't yet coming through to me in stereo. I expected to be hitting repeat on Popular Songs 100 times after seeing Yo La Tengo perform the album. So is my take on the show tainted by the fact that I haven't entirely fallen in love with Popular Songs? Do I have a bad ear? Who am I, after all? Music lay person. Opinionated music lay person.
A few obscure highlights from the show.
Statler (5'6, 300 pounds, 65-ish, gray crew cut): I could get on your shoulders.
Waldorf (5'7, 150 pounds, 50-ish, gray pony tail): Be a good view for about a second and a half.
Statler: You might have to get that knee replacement surgery.
Waldorf: How do they do knee replacement? You know they replace hips too.
Everyone here looks 12. 12 is the new 21.
Conversation with Chris:
Me: Look at that guy's mullet.
Chris: Oh yeah. That's the Swayze.
I leave you a promise to report on dinner tomorrow and videos for "Our Way to Fall" and "Here to Fall."