Concert Reviews

Yo La Tengo Brought Transcendence and Chaos to Granada Theater

Yo La Tengo played two sets Thursday night.
Yo La Tengo played two sets Thursday night. Carley Elsey

To think that Yo La Tengo could possibly put together a career-spanning performance would be a bit too much to ask from a band with a 34-year musical history — even across two complete sets and an encore consisting of over 20 songs.

But, somehow, they pulled it off.

Instead, the prolific band stuck closely to songs from their 15th full-length release, There’s a Riot Going On, with some fan favorites delicately interspersed.

With a stage decorated with twisted vinyl and unrolled film reels and littered with an array of musical instruments, the indie rock veterans gave the crowd a show that truly proved the band’s musical prowess with the members trading instruments and vocal duties with almost every song.

Yo La Tengo draws a diverse crowd of all ages, races and cultural scenes, who filled the floor of the Granada Theater before the 8 p.m. start time, rapt in anticipation for what was sure to be a mellow show.

“This’ll be a treat,” said concertgoer Cody Lester, who said he was coming off a particularly bad day. “I haven’t been to a mellow show in a while.”

Cody’s expectations were certainly met in the band’s first set, which was filled mostly with songs from their intimate and elegant new album. New tracks such as “You Are Here,” “Ashes,” “Let’s Do It Wrong” and “She May, She Might” stood up well against “Our Way to Fall” from their 2000 release And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out.

Midway through the first set, Yo La Tengo surprised fans who may have been keeping track of their setlists on with a track from their 2015 album, Stuff Like That There, “Naples,” during which percussionist Georgia Hubley took center stage.

When the song concluded, singer and guitarist Ira Kaplan finally addressed the crowd after six songs that flowed one right into the other.

“Good evening,” he said with a timid charm. “Thank you for joining us.

“One question we’re often asked,” he continued, referencing the longstanding marriage between him and Hubley, “is, 'Is there a secret?'

“The short answer,” he said with a grin, “is, no. But, it helps to always be learning new things.”

Kaplan also acknowledged the band’s tendency to be a tad disengaged from the audience, saying that they had been criticized in the past for “coming on stage without saying hi,” like every other band.

“The truth,” Kaplan joked, “is that we just don’t really care how you feel … but we’re glad you’re here nonetheless.”

“The truth is that we just don’t really care how you feel … but we’re glad you’re here nonetheless.” – Ira Kaplan

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The first set concluded with the la-la-la-ba-ba-ba croon of bassist James McNew in “Black Flowers” from 2006’s I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, “Summer” from 1990’s Fakebook and the new track “Here You Are.”

Another concertgoer, Kim B., said that the first set reminded her of hippy festivals from her past.

“It was like sitting around a bonfire,” she said, “passing around a horn of mead.” Kim was not so happy with the second half, however.

For all the transcendent, atmospheric tones of the first set, the band came into their second set bringing chaos and distortion that kicked the seat out from under a crowd that had grown sedate with the mellow grooves of the first half.

The band did begin with a bit of the sleepy seduction of their first set with the aptly-named new song, “Dream, Dream Away,” but that rest was disrupted with an abrupt change in tone with the heavy guitars of “Big Day Coming” from their 1993 release Painful.

The second set kept the energy up with heavy beats and Sonic Youth-like fuzz, complete with Kaplan spinning his guitar around to get the full effect of complete chaos.

Overall fans left the show with a completely new sense of what this longstanding band could really bring to the live stage.

One concertgoer, Liz Longberg, said of the performance, “That’s the kind of stuff you’ll never hear on the album.”

For as well-known and well-loved as Yo La Tengo is for fans and casual listeners alike, their performance Thursday night proved that there is nothing predictable about them and no perception that can’t be widened.
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David Fletcher writes about music, arts and culture for the Dallas Observer. You can usually find him at a show in Deep Ellum whether he's writing about it or not. A punk scholar and local music enthusiast, David focuses his attention on the artists screaming in the margins of Dallas' music scene.
Contact: David Fletcher