BY JORDAN MAINZER
It was a big day coming. On Friday, February 1st, at the Vic Theater in Chicago, Yo La Tengo treated an eager audience to about two and a half hours of material spanning their almost thirty-year-old career. Playing most of their excellent new album Fade and a variety of cuts from some of their classic albums of the past fifteen years–I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, and I Am Not Afraid of You And I Will Beat Your Ass–YLT certainly gave everybody their money’s worth. Especially because tickets were only twenty bucks in person.
The band first played a ten-song acoustic set consisting of half of Fade and a few Nineties gems: Fakebook’s slinky “The Summer”, and I Can Heart the Heart’s fuzz-popped “Sugarcube” and bossa nova-esque “Center of Gravity”. Playing in front of three green tree cutouts reminiscent of Fade’s album cover, YLT’s softside perhaps overstayed its welcome because the band’s best performances often include Ira’s noisy guitar freakouts. Nonetheless, drummer Georgia Hubley’s voice sounded serenely divine on Fade’s “Cornelia and Jane” and lead singer Ira Kaplan’s gentle delivery on “The Point of It” and “I’ll Be Around” was certainly welcomed by certain members of the audience who were only there to drink one beer. Per usual, the band played many covers, the first being Half Japanese founding member Jad Fair’s “Ashes on the Ground”.
The real show, however, came when Ira and co. plugged in. After a short break, the band immediately jumped into “Cherry Chapstick” before playing a couple more Fade cuts, the latter being album closer “Before We Run”. Hubley’s pounding drums carried over from the album version of “Before We Run”, but The National-like horns and strings were replaced by Kaplan’s guitar and James McNew’s bass. In the middle of the song, the best performance of the show so far, Ira unleashed a strikingly beautiful guitar solo (almost) free of noise. If that perfection wasn’t enough, YLT followed “Before We Run” with “Autumn Sweater”, which is about as close to perfection as pop songs can get. The version the band played live involved Kaplan on keyboard and lead vocals and McNew and Hubley on percussion, McNew sporting maracas in one hand.
While the band opened with Fade lead track “Ohm” acoustically, they played the proper version with minimal recorded backing track third to last in their first electric set. Yes, “Ohm” is so good that YLT played it twice, a move that likely cements it as one of the best YLT songs ever. “Ohm” segued into the Electr-o-Pura bliss that is fake Hollywood story “Tom Courtenay”. Sooner or later, the band was bound to launch into something for at least ten minutes; they chose I Am Not Afraid closer and intentional typo-wielding “The Story of Yo La Tango”.
Throughout the concert, Kaplan repeated how happy he and the band were to return to Chicago, where they recorded Fade this past summer with Tortoise’s John McEntire. As a tribute to McEntire, Thrill Jockey, etc. (as Kaplan put it, “They’re all the same people.”), the band, to begin their first encore, played an extremely faithful version of ZZ Top’s “Gimme All Your Lovin’”, which the crowd loved, minus the hipster who previously spent his time awkwardly dancing with his girlfriend, covering his ears during the too-loud parts, and recording a video of Kaplan’s guitar freakout during “Cherry Chapstick”. It’s okay. He was expressing his ennui.
After the Eighties indulgence, the band played two songs by request (another live YLT tradition), I Can Hear the Heart’s “One PM Again” and Painful’s “Nowhere Near”. YLT then came out for an unlikely second encore, during which they covered Neil Young’s “Time Fades Away” and NRBQ’s “What Can I Say”. They left the stage profusely thanking an appreciative audience.
To play the game of “they didn’t play _______” is useless during a YLT concert; the band has so many good songs that they are bound to leave out audience favorites. The setlist didn’t suffer from the absence of Painful’s “From a Motel 6” or “Big Day Coming”, Fakebook’s “Speeding Motorcycle”, a live reading of a Seinfled episode, or the constantly-requested-by-the-overenthusiastic-old-guy I Am Not Afraid opener and ten minutes of sludge “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind”. YLT is a band that you can see live an infinite number of times and hear something new every outing. Fade songs combined with their old classics should sound great at various festivals throughout the year and in whatever indoor venues they play. Their show at the Vic was by the numbers YLT, but by the numbers YLT beats most bands’ best performances. If only they’d have played–oh, nevermind.
The Weakest Part
Ashes on the Ground (Jad Fair cover)
The Point of It
Cornelia and Jane
I’ll Be Around
Center of Gravity
Is That Enough
Before We Run
Nothing to Hide
The Story of Yo La Tango
Gimme all your lovin (ZZ top cover)
One PM again (By request)
Nowhere Near (By request)
Time Fades Away (Neil Young cover)
What Can I Say (NRBQ cover)
Number of songs per album:
I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One-4
And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out- 2
I Am Not Afraid of You And I Will Beat Your Ass- 2
Popular Songs- 1