Yo La Tengo, Still Got It

yo la tengo

Back in college I had a friend/future enemy who would drive hundreds of miles in an unreliable car to see Yo La Tengo on tour. He said the veteran indie-rock trio (yes, they were already veterans by then) was a band he needed to see as often as he could while they were still together. It seemed like an odd statement. YLT always struck me as the sort of band that you could skip here or there because you knew they'd be around forever and would be pretty awesome for that entire span.

Thursday night's sold-out show at the 9:30 club confirmed this suspicion. Yo La Tengo was just as engaging -- musically, that is -- as when I first saw them more than a dozen years ago, which only accounts for half of their career. Last night's show may have leaned a bit more on the quieter, dronier material the band has been cooking up in recent years but whenever things verged on getting a bit too sleepy or monotonous, YLT would break out a "hit." Pacing is an underrated aspect to shaping a memorable set, but YLT showed themselves to be pros.

(More after the jump.)

After the very extended jam "More Stars Than Heaven," which topped the 10-minute mark as just the second song in the set, YLT kept the mellow vibe going with fan favorites "Autumn Sweater" and "Let's Save Tony Orlando's House" (+1 for "Simpsons" reference -- "Hi, I'm Troy McClure. You might remember me from such telethons as "Out With Gout '88" and "Let's Save Tony Orlando's House."). Guitarist Ira Kaplan, drummer Georgia Hubley and bassist James McNew casually swapped instruments and vocal duties but the best moments came when they were at their usual spots, particularly the blissful pop of "Tom Courtenay" and "Sugarcube," which both featured some extended feedback freakouts from Kaplan.

The covers YLT played during its pair of encores perhaps defined the band even more than their own songs. There's simply no other group that would cover Black Flag ("Nervous Breakdown"), Half Japanese ("Firecracker Firecracker") and the Beach Boys ("Farmer's Daughter") during the same show. The first two were nods to favorite sons of D.C., or at least the general area, said Kaplan. The last one, well, they just wanted to play that one, a beautiful acoustic version with Hubley and Kaplan sharing vocals, barely above a whisper. It may be another five years until I see them again, but I can be pretty sure it won't disappoint.

NPR streamed and archived last night's show. Take a listen.

By David Malitz |  September 18, 2009; 6:00 PM ET Live Last Night
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