Yo La Tengo November 11, the Sayers Club.
Yo La Tengo’s power as a performing unit, to me, has always stemmed from the clash of its many musical styles. Noisy outbursts bump against downtempo hypnotics, pop and rock sensibilities tangle with folk and country conventions, and quirky covers get sprinkled among carefully constructed originals for one of the most varied rides on the indie circuit.
For the Matador Records veterans’ second-ever Vegas performance, however, we got a far narrower slice of Yo La Tengo—a stripped down, mostly acoustic version designed to celebrate latest album Stuff Like That There, a 25-years-later sequel to 1990’s covers-and-more record, Fakebook. And though the typically guitar-thrashing Ira Kaplan never even touched an electric instrument, and the three singers’ vocals rarely rose much above a whisper, the show was a success by any standard, perhaps the surest sign of the New Jersey-based band’s enduring vigor after more than 30 years.
It helped that the trio had a fourth musician onboard for the occasion: early member Dave Schramm, touring with the group for the first time since the ’80s. Schramm handled electric-guitar duties while Kaplan played an acoustic, and the former’s atmospheric sounds and solos were as captivating, in their way, as the latter’s more familiar twitchy style. Thanks were also in order for the setting, with the Sayers Club’s intimate lounge vibe—and especially its pristine sound system—a sweet match for a quiet presentation that featured upright bass and a drum rig consisting of just a snare, one tom and one cymbal.
The night’s 15 covers felt especially well-chosen, among them bassist James McNew’s punky stab at Devo’s “Bottled Up;” drummer Georgia Hubley’s twangy twist on The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love;” a Vegas-nodding rendition of “This Diamond Ring,” made famous by Jerry Lewis’ son, Gary; and two numbers (“Ruler of My Heart” and “Holy Cow”) in tribute to New Orleans great Allen Toussaint, who died one day earlier. If there were any YLT newbies among the small but loyal crowd that turned up for the two-plus-hour, Wednesday-night affair, the three-song encore—The Kinks’ “Oklahoma, U.S.A.,” Beat Happening’s “Cast a Shadow” and Daniel Johnston’s “Speeding Motorcycle”—should have made for an engaging primer.
Ultimately, though, the night’s most indelible moments came when the four players reinterpreted their own classics, like a serene Set 1 take on oldie “Barnaby, Hardly Working” that stretched luxuriously beyond previous incarnations, or a slow-burning Set 2 “Double Dare” that barely resembled 1993’s up-tempo original. In those haunting moments, the Yo La Tengo we didn’t get never even crossed my mind. –Spencer Patterson