Tag Archives: James McNew


Yo La Tengo Satisfy a Sold-Out Brooklyn Steel with Two Sets on Friday

April 9th, 2018

Yo La Tengo – Brooklyn Steel – April 6, 2018

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

Not too many rock acts out there even attempt to play two full sets of music every show, filling a set list with different songs from across their catalog each night. Even fewer do it after almost 35 years as a band and rarer still that such an outfit would do so while also promoting a brand-new album that’s as strong and vital as any of the newest music being put out today. All of which makes Yo La Tengo a unique band. The trio has played something like 10 shows in New York City over the past year—from a free-jazz freak-out to their free-form Hanukkah shows to a free show in Central Park. They seem to invert everything about rock and roll, just playing a regular old club gig is the rarity. But that’s where Yo La Tengo found themselves, in the middle of a regular old tour, playing a sold-out gig at Brooklyn Steel on Friday night. The date happened to fall on the venue’s first birthday, one year since opening its doors, which somehow felt appropriate—as NYC’s live-music landscape changes with each passing year, Yo La Tengo have been a constant.

That consistency was on full display throughout their show. The eight-song first set played like a single entity, a group meditation that held the audience in complete attention. The band—Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew—moved around the stage to different instruments, a ballet of guitars, bass, drums and keyboards. Regardless of who was playing what at any time, the mood was one of utter relaxation, the music alternating between Zen loops, crunchy guitar melodies and whispered singing. Quietude was the overarching theme and the crowd followed along: A huge rock club in complete silence is the rarest of all things, but with Yo La Tengo leading along on songs like “She May She Might” and the lovely “Ashes,” it felt completely natural. Everyone was happy to luxuriate in the peace the band was offering. The real joys were found in between the songs, the veterans lingering on interstitial themes and setting up new ambient spaces in the segues.

The second set quickly flipped the script: “Flying Lesson (Hot Chicken #1)” unleashed Kaplan’s guitar into a gesticulating chaos while McNew and Hubley chugged along. The restraint of the first set dissolved into a host of rock-outs, building to a peak in “Ohm,” which found Kaplan passing his guitar into the crowd, held aloft like a rock star, feedback filling the room. The set-closing “Pass the Hatchet I Think I’m Goodkind” was a patient jammer, epic in length and intensity, Kaplan soloing and singing while lying on the stage. A Velvet Underground–cover-heavy encore showed off other facets of Yo La Tengo’s upside-down rock and roll and kept their local and loyal fans satisfied until the next encounter. —A. Stein | @Neddyo


Yo La Tengo Celebrate Their 30th Anniversary at Town Hall

December 4th, 2014

Yo La Tengo – Town Hall – December 3, 2014

Yo La Tengo – Town Hall – December 3, 2014
Thirty years ago a little band named Yo La Tengo played their very first show, at Maxwell’s—in their hometown, Hoboken, N.J. Their very first song was a cover of the Urinals’ “Surfin’ with the Shah.” Three decades later, and the band began their encore with that very same song, this time joined onstage at Town Hall with more than 15 fellow musicians, friends and ex-band members all playing along. Other bands take note: This is how you celebrate a band-iversary.

It says something about Yo La Tengo that they’re still friends with former band members, which is a pretty rare thing. Sure it might make for a boring episode of Behind the Music, but it also means that they were able to reach far back into their catalog last night, pulling out songs like “Tried So Hard” and “Can’t Forget,” off their 1990 album, Fakebook, alongside the old friends who helped record them. For Yo La Tengo diehards, this was the show to see them bring out everything they’ve got. As frontman Ira Kaplan explained, they are celebrating the release of their “brand new 21-year-old record,” the expanded rerelease of Painful, but beyond that, the performance was a rare chance to pull from anywhere in the band’s discography. There were tender songs on acoustic instruments, like the opener, “My Little Corner of the World,” sung beautifully by drummer Georgia Hubley. There were blisteringly loud squealing Kaplan guitar solos, an all-body attack on the instrument that came out for the likes of “The Story of Yo La Tengo,” “Blue Line Swinger” and others. Very few bands do loud so well, or soft so well, and very very few bands can do both.

The night was filled with many little special moments. It’s easy to forget that at the heart of this band is a husband-and-wife duo (plus bassist James McNew). When they wrapped up “Nowhere Near,” Kaplan remarked how it felt like just yesterday that he’d first heard Hubley play the song for them, kind of like an older couple looking at each other and asking themselves, “Where does the time go?” A good concert is one remembered fondly by the audience, but a truly great show is equally special for the band. And last night was special for all. So expect great things for their 50th anniversary, because if any band can make it there, it’s Yo La Tengo. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks

Photos courtesy of Ahron Foster | ahronfoster.com

(Tonight’s Yo La Tengo show at Town Hall is sold out.)


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