Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Cows that Agriculture Won't Allow

If you started with the videos, there's really no point in reading what I've got to say, is there. For while this performance wasn't from Yo La Tengo's concert last night at Velvet Jones in Santa Barbara, it certainly is close enough to the version essayed yesterday to give you the full meaty flavor of what was a typically terrific show from the veteran outfit. "More Stars than There Are in Heaven" is probably my favorite track from their most recent CD, the tongue-in-cheekily named Popular Songs, with its lovely noisy wanting-keening, so it was wonderful for it to get such a mind-blowing, Ira-bending workout. Not that those of us who have been following the band for years expect any less--even back in the early mid 1980 days when 10 people might show up for a show and a peeved Kaplan would merely feedback solo for a half hour, the mild-mannered guitar hero was always in the making. Here, though, such control of that chaos. Such beauty out of noise. If only it were a land we could walk hand-in-hand in. (How fitting it can't be contained in one video.)

For it has to be said, Kaplan is a man possessed in concert. For not only was there this work out, and the set-ending opus that the magisterial instrumental "I Heard You Looking" became, but there was his all out attack on the keyboards for "Sudden Organ," too, blatty-blasts punctuating the song as he'd seemingly randomly fall onto his right elbow. In many ways while they performed much of the latest disc, the heart of this live set was Painful, a hint both of when the band came together with not just alternately but often simultaneously supple and muscular bassist James McNew, but a world view: Beauty hurts, it has to--it teaches us how much is ugly then it ups and leaves.

Take McNew's prime turn at the mic (well, except for the encore's "Ant Music," just as fun as you would have hoped) "Stockholm Syndrome." I'm far from the first person to point out its Neil Young-ish folk rock charms, but just as you get used to the gentle ride, Kaplan jumps in with a guitar solo that makes the tune a mad mash-up: if it were Disneyland, it would be like getting ripped from the carousel, and you're not even on one of the up-and-down horses, and ending up on Tower of Terror, everything about you free-fall guitar.

Alas, I don't mean to ignore Georgia Hubley, whose drumming keeps her wildman husband's ways pinned tight to the songs. How steady she is, mallets-aswinging. How unwilling she seems to want to step into the spotlight, even during a rousing encore version of "Emulsified" when she was called on to take a drum solo. (Perhaps, though, it was Kaplan saying, "take it my little lady," that kept her laughing, instead of drumming crazy.) And then, despite the crowd's noisy rumble (stupid crowd), she also got to sing "Hanky Panky Nohow," that gorgeous John Cale lullabye of sorts, and totally make it her own.

Forget about Ant Music. Let's hear it for YLT Music.

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Anonymous James said...

Yay, you're back and with a YLT post. I'm listening to Popular Songs now. I couldn't agree more about your assessment of Painful as a turning point for them. What a treat it is to hear them draw from that album in concert. Glad you're back.

7:17 PM  
Blogger Smitty said...

This settles it. I *have* to get off the stick and get into YLT. There is no excuse for my dragging my feet on them any more.

12:28 PM  
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