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From Quiet to Loud and Everywhere in Between

February 19th, 2013

Yo La Tengo – Town Hall – February 16, 2013


There’s something wonderfully peculiar about a Yo La Tengo concert split between two sets, one quieter and one louder. Taking the stage in front of cartoonish cutouts of three trees and before a sold-out audience, they kicked off their softer set with an acoustic version of “Ohm,” the first single off the recently released Fade. The song was played so softly that the audience’s excited “Oh, shit, they’re finally onstage and playing this song” applause came to a uniform halt when everyone realized “Oh, shit, I can’t hear this amazing song through our applause because they’re playing it so quietly.”

As soft as it was, Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew’s voices blended together so well that it was nearly impossible to tell them apart. Kaplan’s singing on the acoustic rendition of “The Point of It” had dynamics turned upside down, singing so softly at times that it was barely there at all, as if to showcase the intensity of the expression through its own fragility. If the first half of the show demanded everyone listen closely, the second half was the payoff. Yo La Tengo brought out on an array of electric guitars, switching back and forth between new songs off Fade and older favorites. This old-song-new-song juxtaposition made it clear that the material off this latest album has already begun to sound as classic as old YLT favorites like “Tom Courtenay” and “Deeper Into Movies.”

The second set reached its pinnacle with a much louder version of “Ohm.” Hearing the song twice in such different variations made it seem the theme song of the night. Despite Kaplan wailing away on his guitar, at times looking like he was trying to strangle the instrument to death, the feedback screams that came out of it never felt abrasive. It was like all that noise needed to be there, a deliberately dissonant reaction to the song’s irresistible melody that felt missing when it was played the first time around. There may be no better band at forcing the harsh rock noise against timelessly gorgeous pop melodies. They’re usually blended together so well by the band that it takes splitting these two worlds to make them noticeable at all. —Dan Rickershauser

Photos courtesy of Stephanie F. Black | www.flickr.com/photos/blackfrances