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Sunday 4 September 2022

Half An Hour Of Yo La Tengo

New Jersey three-piece Yo La Tengo make a very particular kind of US indie rock- their sound comes from the New York traditions of 60s folk, CBGBs punk, angular post punk and The Velvet Underground married to the wall of shoegaze feedback. The husband/ wife duo of guitarist Ira Kaplan and drummer Georgia Hubley and bassist James McNew all contribute vocals. Starting out in the mid 80s, in the 90s and 2000s they made several superb albums, filled with the kind of songs that hit a certain spot, an emotive, just out of reach, dewy eyed fuzzed up guitar rock, melodies smothered in noise. 

1993's Painful album, 1995's Electr- O- Pura and 1997's I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One are their high watermarks. In 2000 they released And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside- Out, the record that saw the music press catch up with them, at the exact point they slowed down, turned the amps down and created a much softer sound. Since then they've released a further seven albums, meandering between the differing points of US underground indie. 

I saw them play at The Roadhouse in Manchester, a basement venue on the edge of the Northern Quarter that closed its doors to bands for the last time in 2015. Today it's a restaurant. The internet tells me the gig was 9th November 1997 and who am I to disagree. I'm pretty sure this is correct, '97 (pre- kids for me, touring to promote I Can Hear The Heart...) but don't remember it being November, it seemed like the end of summer in my memory but maybe that's just the YLT sound. They played a dozen songs, the wondrous Autumn Sweater included (a song I never get tired of) and encored with an unrehearsed version of Borstal Breakout and spine tingling covers of However Much I've Lied (Gram Parsons and Emmy Lou Harris) and Speeding Motorcycle (Daniel Johnson) before a ear splitting, amp bursting Big Day Coming. One of those gigs in a small, sweaty, dimly lit basement that lives long in the memory. 

Half An Hour Of Yo La Tengo

  • Autumn Sweater
  • From A Motel 6
  • Big Day Coming
  • Sugarcube
  • Tom Courtenay
  • Here To Fall
  • Stockholm Syndrome
  • Little Honda

Autumn Sweater, Sugarcube, Stockholm Syndrome and their cover of The Beach Boys Little Honda are all from '97's I Can hear The Heart Beating As One, a sixteen song double vinyl album that is one of the 90s unsung guitar peaks. Autumn Sweater, with it's dry, woody drum intro and heartstring tugging descending organ chords, and Ira's thin, enervated vocal, is beautiful as I said before. 'When I heard the knock at the door/ I couldn't catch my breath/ Is it too late to call this off?' he sings, 'We could slip away/ Wouldn't that be better/ Me with nothing to say/ And you in your autumn sweater'. A film scene in a few lines. 

From A Motel 6 and Big Day Coming are from Painful (which isn't far behind I Can hear the Heart Beating As One, a superb self contained album that seems to summarise a world). There are two versions of Big Day Coming on Painful, a quieter, hushed one led by a droney organ that opens the record and then a noisy, amps and pedals turned up one- the one in this mix is the latter one. Tom Courtenay, which starts with the line 'Julie Christie/ The rumours are true' sung over a wall of fuzz, is from Elect- O- Pura. Here To Fall is from 2009's Popular Songs, an album that had noise and atmosphere plus strings. 

Yo La Tengo is Spanish for 'I have it!', from a story connected to a baseball team in 1962 and confusion between team members who spoke English but no Spanish or vice versa.


Anonymous said...

I was at that November 97 gig. Great memories indeed. Have seen them many times since, in both the UK and US. They rarely disappoint.

Swiss Adam said...

Always meant to see them again and never got round to it.

Khayem said...

It was actually discovering the Kevin Shields remix of Autumn Sweater about 20 years ago that first made me aware of Yo La Tengo. This was swiftly followed by a version of From A Motel 6 and the uber long instrumental The Love Life Of The Octopus. The extreme differences between the three got me hooked and digging back into their catalogue. The Prisoners Of Love 3CD compilation was a brilliantly timed catching up point, a couple of years later. Sadly, never seen 'em live.

Great selection though, if that needed saying.

Swiss Adam said...

I was trying to find my digital copy of the Shields mix while putting this mix together and couldn't locate it, it's probably on a portable drive somewhere having been transferred between PCs. Not sure it would have fitted but wanted to give it a go. That Prisoners of Love comp is ace- for some reason though I have the 2 disc version. Not sure why.

The Swede said...

Such a great band who to my great regret I've never caught up with in concert. The last album I picked up was 2013's Fade. I'm not sure why they dropped off my radar after that as I played that one to death.