Yo La Tengo, Landmark Loew’s, Jersey City, NJ- 9/29
NYC ROLL-TOP: Oh, the Asses You Will Beat
Maybe it was the decaying plushness of the place, but virtually nobody stood when Yo La Tengo fedbackwards into the anthemically thrashed introduction of "Sugarcube" and it certainly wasn't for a lack of rocking. And it's a shame to blame the Landmark Loew's Jersey Theatre, really, because it was so nice and pleasant to attend. A Roaring 20s-era movie palace (my Grandpa went there!), opened barely a month before Black Thursday, Yo La Tengo (again) found a pleasantly off-the-beaten-track way to go about their thang. Despite being as close to the spotlight as they ever get, celebrating the recent release of the acclaimed I am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, the Hoboken-bred trio still did it their way.
Nobody stood for the abstruse indie/hip-hop openers of Why?, but that was to be expected. With imagistic half-rapped chants like "the constables have pit-bulls with their pawbones all stepped on" and surprisingly durable observations like "flowers are how plants laugh," the Anticon trio sounds like virtually nobody else — off-putting to some (I guessss), mind-blowing to others (yo!). But nobody stood during Yo La Tengo’s second song, "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind," either, and that was kind of a problem. A snarling 10 minute jam, James McNew inflecting the bassline subtly beneath Ira Kaplan’s distortion waves, it was clear that if nobody was standing for that, they weren’t standing ever. It was an odd vibe that never entirely dissipated, but — by that point — it was fine, because the band eased into the quieter material.
With Kaplan behind a baby grand piano for five songs, the band turned their attention to more tunes from Beat Your Ass. In places, such "The Weakest Part," drummer Georgia Hubley’s first vocal turn of the night, and "Beanbag Chair," the ringtone-ready first single, the band had trouble making the material sound full without a bassline. The vintage R&B of the McNew-crooned "Mr. Tough" fared better (perhaps because it’s so dang infectious), and — when Hubley took over the piano for the drumless "I Feel Like Going Home" — the band found a new setpiece. With Kaplan’s feedback supplanting the album’s string arrangement after a mostly solo performance from Hubley, the song began close to silence and built dramatically to a whisper.
A few more Beat Your Ass rockers ("I Should Have Known Better," "Watch Out for Me Ronnie") and a pair of canonical indie faves ("Stockholm Syndrome," "Tom Courtenay"), and it was time to jam again. Building from practically ambient beginnings, "The Story of Yo La Tango" built to a majestic climax, sheets of noise barreling while Kaplan spectacularly twitched, headbanged, and spasmed, all in the name of making greater and more terrific chaos. It was pretty impressive, y’understand, and sort of diminished the impact of the set-closing "I Heard You Looking," which felt needlessly long after the money shot of "Tango." Oh, well.
The band finally dipped into the covers during their double encore. In the middle were the Stones' "Rocks Off" and Beat Happening's "Cast A Shadow" Book-ending were a pair of stunningly quiet Kaplan/Hubley duets: the Kinks' "Oklahoma USA" and their own "Did I Tell You?" (in the reinterpreted arrangement that happened to be tucked on their covers album, Fakebook): modest, beautiful, and completely Yo La Tengo. It would be appropriate here, perhaps, to end with a joke about asses getting beaten, but instead I will end with my grandfather, several nights later.
"Was the Loew's close to your house?" I asked him at Yom Kippur dinner. He was born and raised in Jersey City, and only moved when it was determined that my mother was allergic to New Jersey air (true story!)
"No," he said, and paused, in that way that tired grandfathers do. "It was about 10 blocks."
Jesse Jarnow blogs at wunderkammern27.com.