Wednesday, October 04, 2006


concert review: Yo La Tengo, why? @ Phoenix Concert Theatre(Toronto, Ontario), October 2, 2006

Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo @ Phoenix: photo by Michael Ligon

Yo La Tengo's new disc "I'm Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass" hasn't made it into my music collection yet, and I've only heard one song from it, so the possibility of the band performing only the new songs at their show at the Phoenix a couple of nights ago was weighing heavily on me. Regardless, I'm only casually familiar with the band's catalogue anyway so distinguishing the old stuff from the new was a challenge. It's been two years since I last saw Yo La Tengo live when they performed at Ryerson Theatre and while my memories of that show are vague, I do remember liking the performance a lot but wasn't particularly satisfied with the school-auditorium like venue. On the other hand, Phoenix is one of my favourite venues in Toronto, Yo La Tengo were in top form a few nights ago.

Opening the show were the Cincinatti-bred, weird pop stylings of why?(whose name I assume is murder to Google/Yahoo! search). A trio of gentlemen, with a lead vocalist who physically reminds me of The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne in his younger days, the band performed a vibrant, experimental brand of pop music that had the wide-eyedness of a child who just discovered music for the first time. (I think that Yo La Tengo display this as well, which made this a good matchup in my opinion.) My recollections of the actual music are somewhat vague although I do recall a fine line between melodicism, artier pursuits and creative instrumental arrangements. The drummer played drums and xylophone at the same time. Now how cool is that! I saw at least one shaggy-haired young fan near the front singing along to almost every note, but I suspect that most people, like myself, were new to why? In the end, the response to why? was well-received.

I've only seen Yo La Tengo twice now but I feel like that had I'd seem them ten times, my response would still be the same. There's an utterly wonderful feeling being washed over by sound, both loud and quiet. Not unlike the feeling of a Sigor Ros show, but trade in Sigur Ros' grandiosity for Yo La Tengo's garage-ness. Ira took the majority of vocal duties, although Ira and eventually even James took their swipes at the mic. The band performed a mix of songs of a variety different musical styles, from quiet pop songs(a Georgia-sung version of "Tom Courtenay"; "Season of the Shark"), to raucaus garage rock, to jazzy/funky("Mr. Tough"), to dissonant noise guitar jams, and well-received noisy pop songs("Sugarcube").There were several instances of trade-off between instruments like Ira going from guitar to keyboard, Georgia going from drums to keyboards to drums, and even James going from bass guitar to a second smaller drumkit. Not to mention the aforementioned tradeoff on lead vocals, with even James taking lead vocals for one song which I recall they mentioned was a cover of a Mike Love tune(which I don't think was "Little Honda"). At one point in the set, Yo La Tengo invited the gentlemen of why? for a rollicking take on a Bob-Dylan song.

I'd like to take a little credit here because I think was the first person to yell out "Tom Courtenay" when Ira announced that Georgia would sing and they'd be playing something acoustic. Of course at that point, "Tom Courtenay" is the obvious choice(and if you'd ever heard the Georgia-sung acoustic version, you'd know what I mean). So as various people were yelling out requests, I yelled out "Tom Courtenay" which sparked a few other people to yell out the song also, and before we knew it, Ira and the others were agreeing to play it. I was practically floored at the moment, and even moreso as the ran through a sublime version of the song led by the quiet, innocence of Georgia's vocals. A damn perfect way to end the main set. The lead vocalist of why? strolled onto the stage, pumping up the crowd for an encore, saying that he wanted to hear a few more acoustic tunes, and the crowd was quite enthusiastic at this prompting. After "Tom Courtenay", everything after that was really all gravy, but the two encores we got were much appreciated.

Here are my photos.

chromewaves and chartattack have favourable reviews of the show.

Omahan Tim McMahan interviewed Yo La Tengo's James McNew.

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