(Check the Slideshow at the bottom of post for photos by Charlie Clark)I'll confess to being a
little disappointed — we were so close to seeing Yo La Tengo and crew act
out a classic sitcom Thursday night at The Vogue, but the wheel ended up on Dump instead.
The band is using a spinning
wheel, in the style of television's Wheel of Fortune, to determine the first
set of each show during their winter tour — options include a set of
songs that start with "S," a set by the band's alter egos Condo Fucks and songs
written for the underwater documentary films of Jean Painleve.
NUVO staffer Lauren
Guidotti was the lucky audience member who gave the wheel a spin, picked out of the crowd by drummer Georgia
Hubley, then hazed a bit by guitarist (and Hubley's husband) Ira Kaplan, who told Guidotti she had to spin the wheel at exactly 33 and a third revolutions per
second. (Check out video of the spin
spin; bassist James McNew is taping each spin on the tour on his iPhone, although not in 3D,
as they promised last night.)
And the wheel ticked by
sitcoms and Condo Fucks, landing on Dump, the name under which McNew records
his solo work. Still, the disappointment soon withered away — who knew
Dump could rock so hard?
On record, McNew comes off as vulnerable and isolated, a one-man-band armed with organ and guitar, playing
adorable, neurotic covers of Prince songs and digressive, often
self-excoriating originals. (Typically, he only takes center stage with Yo La Tengo when they play his
acoustic ballad "Stockholm Syndrome," a melancholy wisp of a song from I
Can Hear the Heart Beating as One
that's often heard live.)
But in a live setting, McNew, who handled lead guitar and vocals with Kaplan taking over bass, managed to combine sweetness (and he
does have a sweet, mild falsetto) with plenty of crunch, rivaling Kaplan for
guitar acrobatics when he let loose at the close of his set. And we still
heard some of the gentle, record-geek side of Dump on a cover of Prince's "The
Beautiful Ones," McNew hitting every "baby" with self-aware passion.
It's rare that McNew gets so much stage time during a Yo La
Tengo show — usually he's left to maintain a solid, unshakable bass line
while Kaplan does his thing on lead guitar, and he played that role during the
second set, which featured Yo La Tengo in its typical arrangement.
That second set featured a
few favorites, including "Autumn Sweater," which saw
Kaplan on organ and both Hubley and McNew on drums. "Periodically Double and
Triple," from the band's most recent album Popular Songs, had a nice, organ-based groove and great opening lyrics ("Never read Proust / Seems a little too long), and
Hubley knocked out the dreamy "Little Eyes." Kaplan eventually found room to
roam on the set closer, working through two guitars on a lengthy noise solo,
swinging the first towards his amp in an almost dangerous way, setting it down
on the ground to a get a little better angle at one point.
Things cooled down a bit on
the encore, or at least after a cover of Dow Jones and the Industrials' "Can't
Stand the Midwest," which Kaplan introduced by saying "we always do this song
when we're in Indianapolis." (Those interested should check out this page about a Dow Jones reissue project being mounted by Lafayette experimental label Family Vineyard
Dow Jones reissue project being mounted by Lafayette experimental label Family
A couple mostly-acoustic covers from the album Fakebook closed out the night: first a gentle version of Gene Clark's "Tried So Hard," then a perfect take on
Dylan's "I Threw It All Away." William Tyler, the Nashville session musician
turned solo guitarist who opened the night, brought a little twang to both
closing numbers, as well a concise solo on the bridge of each tune.
An opening set might not have
allowed Tyler enough time to develop his ideas, but he seems to have plenty,
offering acoustic guitar workouts in the style of Leo Kottke and John Fahey and
electric guitar jams with a taste of Bill Frisell.
One last note: It only occurred to me while watching the wheel spin that not only is it a funny and clever concept, but it also required the band to work up eight separate sets for this tour. Obviously, there's some overlap between a set like "songs that start with 's'" and the band's typical set list. But it still must've taken some practice time to get some of the less-often played material into shape. And Kaplan mentioned that the wheel hadn't yet landed on the Condo Fucks, meaning that the group might well have worked up material that won't be played in this setting. It's hard not to be impressed by that kind of work ethic, especially from a band that's been around more than quarter-century.