Monday, October 26, 2009

Yo La Tengo can still safely say "I've got it!"

Yo La Tengo is that rare band that's still touring today with 25 years of shared inventiveness under their belts. Music geeks love them inordinately, even if they tend to parse every little thing Yo La Tengo does down to the sub-atomic level. I'm not going play that game by trying to put on a dork clinic about the history of Yo La Tengo (fun fact - the band's name is a Spanish colloquialism for "I've got it!"). They're just plain ol' one of my faves. The sort of band that I will always see. And even when the evening contains a bundle of less than stellar elements, I'm always glad that I did so.

My wife and I saw Yo La Tengo perform last Thursday night at one of Seattle's least likable venues - the Showbox SODO. This newer Showbox is a warehouse space with a concrete floor, horrible acoustics and an otherwise likable staff that seems equally amazed that anyone comes there for shows. With the lights up, it looks like the a cleaned-up, empty tire dealership. Seeing small groupings of hipsters standing around drinking PBR tallboys in this space is so dull, so repetitious, so un-buzz-worthy. Before the opener broke the static, it looked like a photocopied venue teleported from a very long, rather uninteresting list of mid-sized Midwestern towns - let's say Eau Claire or Kalamazoo or Topeka - where everyone affects a pose like they'd prefer to be somewhere else. Maybe that sounds judgmental and pretentious. Sue me. But I'm just saying that it didn't feel like the epicenter of articulate, classic cred. Yet amidst the sea of earth-toned hoodies and ironic t-shirts was Ira Kaplan (lead guitar and vocals, one of the two original members with his wife, Georgia Hubley). Sitting behind a tour merch table - signing CDs and taking pics with fans. When Ira, Georgia and James McNew eventually took the stage, they were filled with good-humor. If they are filled with cynicism or angst about still doing what they do so well, you won't see it in the club. Or at least not on this particular night.

Their opener was Jackie-O Motherfucker, an absurd, freeform psychedelic, post-rock quartet of meat from Portland that jammed like the revolving door, acid-dropping band of goofballs they've been for years and years. We tolerated them the way older music geeks do when they're just happy to be out, without wanting to fully attribute it to having a trustworthy babysitter home with your kid so that you can act nearly half your age.

As the music got ready to roll, a trio of insanely drunk misfits forced their way into our space. By the time Yo La Tengo started playing, the sole dude - a fat little drunk choad in one of those ugly, ubiquitous army green British Invasion caps - passed out cold on the floor. His female "friends" took pictures of him and texted with their cell phones until some of us stepped in to make sure that he was OK. He wasn't - security had to carry him out. Then his friends were extra drunk and annoying for another hour before the surrounding group disdain eventually got them to leave. Even Georgia rolled her eyes at how they were carrying on and interrupting the quieter songs. It just solidified my one and only rule of seeing live music - don't be annoying. Of course that rule has 127 subsets of definitions, but we all know what I'm saying.

In the end, Yo La Tengo played a great show. Jackie-O Motherfucker and Yo La Tengo made a big deal out of a "special guest" on the way. I'm sure everyone else had the same degree of nerdy fun debating who that might be. Then Howard Kaylan from "The Turtles" showed up. I know - who? He was totally adorable, not entirely wasted, and about as much fun as having a beer with your uncle after church. Then Yo La Tengo came back out for two encores. By the time they left, everyone felt great about it all. Real pros played a really decent show. And it wasn't until a few days later that I could take a few minutes to reflect upon just how rare that is. As it always was, and surely will be.

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