Yo La Tengo, with Kurt Wagner
Saturday, January 19
Randy Bacon's Gallery Sounds, Springfield, MO
File under: Art Gallery Rock and/or Q&Acore
Better than: Kissing Ron Paul in a RuPaul costume.
By RICHARD GINTOWT
I first saw Yo La Tengo 12 freakin’ years ago at Lollapalooza 1995. It was mid-afternoon on a smoldering parking lot stage, and the artsy Hoboken, NJ, trio rocked just hard enough to impress the discerning 14-year-old critic in me. I bought their Electro-Pura LP soon thereafter, and a couple weeks later, I actually started liking it.
Hard to imagine that kissy-facers Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley have been making music twice that long (they started in 1984 and added bassist James McNew in 1991). Hence the “Freewheeling Yo La Tengo Tour” – a stripped-down venture a la VH1 Storytellers that inspired the band to book out-of-the-way venues like Randy Bacon’s Gallery Sounds in Springfield, Missouri.
The venue – a pretty nice stage inside a photography studio – is bringing lots of cool shows to Springfield. A three-hour drive from Kansas City gets you an intimate glance at upcoming acts like The Von Bondies (March 8), Headlights (March 9), Xiu Xiu (April 10) and Enon (April 22).
Kurt Wagner of Lambchop opened to a sold-out house with a subdued set of gothic folk. The charm of Wagner’s songwriting lies in his storytelling. Though his 45-minute set (humorously synched to a kitchen timer) dragged a bit without a band to complement his sparse fingerpicking arrangements, he kept the crowd engaged with Leonard Cohen-ish ruminations flummoxed by a collection of delay pedals. Between songs, Wagner posted sheets of paper on a makeshift clothesline with humorous barbs such as “Please continue talking during tonight’s performance.”
Yo La Tengo took the stage nonchalantly and kicked things off with its psychedelic take on The Simpsons theme (which appeared during one episode’s end credits). Kaplan then explained that the group would be fielding questions throughout the evening – the highlights of which I now present for your titillation:
(All responses by Kaplan)
I saw you guys at Lollapalooza last year and you kind of went insane with your guitar I was kind of wondering how you didn’t drop it.
"I don’t want to give away too many secrets – that’s for your instructional video."
What your best Steve Albini story?
"He called us once about backing up Fred Schneider for this record he was producing. I was on the phone with him for 20 minutes before I believed it was him."
What’s it like being married and on the road together? (Immediately followed by another audience member getting peeved that she was totally going to ask that question)
"We fight a lot less than you two do."
Can you play The Kinks’ “Do You Remember Walter?”
"No. We freewheel within very strict parameters."
Why don’t you guys play the blues or something that you want to play?
"For your information sir, we don’t ever play stuff that we don’t want to play."
Why did you guys come to Springfield?
"We thought this would be a good space for what we were trying to accomplish with this tour (new faces, different atmosphere, etc). Plus, our normal show contains extravagant lasers and trapeze artists."
Though the Q&A session proved engaging enough, it was a bit of a disappointment to see it take up half of the two-hour set. But I can see why a band like Yo La Tengo would enjoy such a dialogue at this point in their career – they clearly learn as much as the audience. Still, it bogged down any momentum the show gained, and it didn’t help that the musical component of the set was less dynamic than a typical Yo La Tengo show (Hubley played with brushes sans a bass drum, and none of the band’s quirky keyboards made the journey).
The requests that the band did take were seemingly already on its set list – not a total disappointment considering that everyone wanted to hear “Mr. Tough” and “Little Honda” anyways. A cover of The Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting For You” was a nice gesture but a little half-baked. I would have rather heard some new material.
The show’s best moments occurred during the feedback-driven passages that allowed Kaplan to noodle with his effects pedals while Hubley and McNew locked in on loopy, psychedelic grooves. Kaplan and Hubley still have an undeniable chemistry as vocalists; it seems as though they sound more and more like each other with each passing album (15 to date). The group’s mellower material also translated supremely to the intimate, sit-down setting.
Even at $30 a ticket, most of the group’s hardcore fans appeared to go home happy.
Random detail: Springfield has “No Cruising” and “No Cruising Ends” zones. I totally cruised through both.
By the way: Sports bars in Springfield don’t give a rat’s ass about KU/MU basketball games.