Yo La Tengo - Granada Theater - May 4, 2013

Yo La Tengo - Granada Theater - May 4, 2013
Photo by Bill Ellison/The Granada

A two-set performance at a rock show is as rare as a not-self-indulgent guitar solo. But those rarities are exactly what a full house at the Granada was treated to Saturday night at the Granada. Prior to the show starting there was some speculation in the crowd about how the two sets would be formatted. And as clock drifted past the announced start time for the opening set, conjecture only rose.

When the curtain finally went up 20 minutes or so behind schedule, there was the band, positioned at the front of the stage, partitioned by a row of trees. Georgia was sitting behind a spare drum kit, Ira seated and clutching an old black Gibson acoustic and James behind a 12 string. And as the band launched into a gentle arrangement of "Ohm," the driving track that opens the recent album Fade, the plot became clear.

This is not a band that has ever been particularly concerned with appearances, and this evening was no exception. Ira was in a tee, jeans, and Chucks. Georgia was in a shirt that looked to have never felt the warmth of an iron, no makeup, a small rip in a knee of her jeans. James was in a black sport shirt and jeans and heavy black-framed glasses. The band is as comfortable performing as the clothes they were wearing.

Communication among the group throughout the evening was only the most subtle and perfunctory gestures and signals.

Fade is considered to be among their most revealing and intimate album, and the first set was largely a honeyed rendering of songs from the album. With Georgia playing with mostly brushes, the stripped down versions of the songs were really gorgeous. "Ohm" gave way to "Two Trains," with a gentle recorded percussion banging out the rhythm of a train, as Georgia played guitar accents and Telecaster and Ira wrung clear notes with just the subtlest of effects. After "On Our Way To Fall," Ira greeted the audience with a bit of wit regarding Cinco de Mayo, and explained how it was one of those days where everything they touched seemed to fall apart. Maybe that explained the delayed start? Just about all of the gear looked to be of such vintage and wear this must be a daily occurrence.

The opening set was lovely, lasting a bit more than 30 minutes. It was just the right length of time for fans that might love the soft stuff but also came to hear a little of the chaos the band is capable of producing. During the break of about 30 minutes to reset the stage, the programmed percussion of "Ohm" was heard. More repairs in order? As I was wondering if they would start the second set with an electric version to recalibrate the audience, the curtain finally rose. There was Ira with that same black Gibson and the set started with the mellow beginnings of "Night Falls On Hoboken," just where the opening set had left off. It started that way, but didn't stay that way. Ira gave a little demonstration on the abstract sounds an acoustic guitar run through loops, distortion, and left with an extra string bouncing and resonating on the pickup can create, as he went off to join Georgia on a mad percussive romp.  

Yo La Tengo - Granada Theater - May 4, 2013
Photo by Bill Ellison/The Granada

Squelch of feedback eventually gave way to the happy cowbell and piano of "Mr. Tough." This 80-minute set was bouncing all over their catalog, with highlights including "Moby Octopad" and "From A Motel 6." As I hoped they played the bouncing, electric "Ohm." When I say bouncing, I mean it. At one point Ira was bouncing his guitar on the stage floor. And they closed the set blistering as Ira building layer upon layer or sound, finally spinning and whirling his guitar around as though it was all he could to restrain himself from smashing it to bits. It would have been a fitting end.

After a five-minute break with an ecstatic crowd calling for the band, return they did. They started with a Monkee's deep cut in tribute to the pending Granada appearance of Peter Tork. That gave way to the band Ira responding to some shout-out requests. ("Maroon 5!!" -- "It would serve you right!"). Then, as the audience watched, Ira figured out how to play soul classic "Be Thankful For What You Got." Including an un-signaled mid-song pause that the band nailed, you the point was driven home just what musical obsessives this trio is.

After covering Jackson Browne, their own "You Can Have It All," the evening closed with a song by Dion. Or Sun Ra? I couldn't quite catch what it was. Trying to figure it out after the fact is futile given how deep into the bag o' songs this band goes. It's hard to convey just how accomplished and tight each of these players is, and what an experience it is to witness their relaxed cohesion. But what a night!

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