Yo La Tengo have spent 30 years perfecting a sound that is distinctive and yet, for all that, ludicrously eclectic.
While the New Jersey band are famed masters of riotous, squalling guitar, they’re no less renowned for songs of delicate and enchanting melancholia.
At the National Concert Hall, it’s the latter that’s on the bill, in a stripped-down and intimate acoustic show that features many of the lovely cover versions on new album, Stuff Like That There.
As on the album, the core trio of Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew are joined by former member, Dave Schramm, on electric and lap-steel guitar.
It’s safe to say that Schramm steals the show, his weird and mournful country licks creating the textural dynamics of the performance. James McNew’s use of the standing bass guitar complements Schramm’s playing perfectly, as does Hubley’s hushed style on a pared-back drum-kit. For most of the night, it feels like you’ve accidentally found yourself on a secret FM station for ghosts, one that plays lovelorn folk, country and soul numbers.
Early standouts include Hubley’s lovely cover of Darlene McRea’s 1964 number, ‘My Hearts Not In It’, and two of the band’s own songs, ‘The Point Of It’ and new track, ‘Rickety’.
As ever with Yo La Tengo, there are charming asides between tunes. Kaplan details his personal war with “a fly the size of an aircraft” who keeps landing on his pint glass.
Elsewhere, a brief dispute emerges between Kaplan and Hubley about whether or not The Cure are ‘new wave’ or ‘goth’, before the band launch into a nice, if not especially daring, cover of ‘Friday I’m In Love’. Other covers on the night include renditions of Hank Williams’s ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ and The Velvet Underground’s ‘Over You’.
It is the more obscure covers — ‘Before We Stopped To Think’, by Great Plains, and Ernie Chaffin’s splendid rockabilly number, ‘Feelin’ Low’ — that stand out.
As do spirited versions of the band’s own classics, ‘Pass Me The Hatchet’ and ‘Ohm’, where the ghost of the racket they normally kick up is briefly to the fore.
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