The enduring alt rock icons Yo La Tengo played a free Central Park Summerstage show on Monday to celebrate over 30 years of the loving couple of drummer Georgia Hubley and guitarist Ira Kaplan, playing their uniquely awesome and laidback rock for their devoted fans. “This is a special night because this is the 26th anniversary of our very first show with James,” said Ira during the set, referring to the much-loved third point of the trio, bassist James McNew. I have realized that YLT may very well be the band I have seen the most in the history of me seeing live music, this being (I do believe) my 16th show. If it’s one thing I’ve learned since my first time witnessing their awesomeness at South By Southwest in 1995, it is that there are two types of YLT shows: mellower singer-songwriter-ly shows, and hard-rocking, distortion-plowing jam-outs. It’s quite clear the band themselves don’t know where each show will take them either, as it’s also true they never play the same set list twice, so they are literally playing it by ear with each set. Many have their preferences of their dueling styles, but this was probably the most evenly balanced set of the two I have ever seen them play. However, after only seeing them play cover shows and backing artists like Robyn Hitchcock recently, this was the first time in a few years I have seen them play a proper YLT set, so this was truly a rapturous return for my love of this band and their genius talents.
Opening the show was the British duo Ultimate Painting, who I looked forward to as the band consists of co-frontmen Jack Cooper and James Hoare, who also front the bands Mazes and Veronica Falls respectively, and I am a big fan of both. Far from just being a mere side project of either of these guys, they have released three incredibly solid albums over the last three years already, so I think you can call this a full-time gig by now. There are elements of both bands there, dreamy harmonies mixed with lo-fi indie-pop and folk-rock elements to produce a sound that blends familiar features of the likes of early Galaxie 500, later Velvet Underground, Real Estate, and even the Beatles at times.
It happens that Yo La Tengo used their magic powers to not only control the weather and hold the angry storm clouds at bay for the show, but also mesmerizing the masses with hypnotic abilities with a truly amazing night of classic songs. There were times you could hear a pin drop in the audience as people were transfixed with their set. Opening with the Ace Frehley classic NYC anthem of “Back In The NY Groove,” to masterpieces like the hazy and dream-like “From a Motel 6” and the crashing ending instrumental jam of “I Heard You Looking” from 1993’s Painful (the former featured the guys from Ultimate Painting shredding guitars on stage alongside Ira); as well as a few from 1997’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, including the sublimely swooning “Sugarcube,” and one of my ultimate favorites “Autumn Sweater,” and even the surprise finale closer of “My Little Corner of the World,” for which Ira brought out his Mother to sing it. Real fans of the band are quite familiar to her coming up on stage as one of the tenements of their formerly annual tradition of a week long of shows at the now defunct club Maxwell’s in their hometown of Hoboken during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Just before the song started, he stunned the fans by revealing they were going to start up the tradition again, starting this Decemeber 12th, only now at Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom. This was about the closest you could come to making this night a Yo La Tengo’s fan wet (but not rained upon) dream.
Article: Dean Keim