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Review: Yo La Tengo @ SWX

Yo La Tengo bring their mythical indie rock presence to SWX for a night of determined musicianship and experimental closeness.

by Sam Cox, Digital Music Editor

Touring with their new album This Stupid World, Yo La Tengo bring their mythical indie rock presence to SWX for a night of determined musicianship and experimental closeness.

Seemingly ever-present yet ever-evolving, Yo La Tengo have been complementing the indie scene with their expansive discography since their formation in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1984. Playing for the first time in Bristol since 2015, the band prepare (or at least as much as a band so entangled with improvisation as Yo La Tengo can prepare) for a night led by their new album This Stupid World, which was released earlier this year on Matador. With this album being birthed from numerous recorded jam sessions, the band bring this mentality to their tour too: there’s a relaxed yet purposeful force to their performance being passed around the room. As they take to the stage in their classic two-set fashion, the trio emphatically open with the new album’s title track, which leads the rest of the night into a planetary rotation, the setlist travelling with songs from 1987’s New Wave Hot Dogs to the modern-classic There's a Riot Going On.

With seemingly intuitive movement, the band swap roles throughout the night, reminding the crowd that Yo La Tengo are free to do whatever they please, making room for both spontaneity and playfulness. This becomes most apparent when Ira Kaplan textures the room with the grappling noises from his guitar, taking his time to explore the feedback that he finds on stage, whilst Georgia Hubley and James McNew patiently guide him. A highlight of Kaplan’s energy finds itself in ‘Sudden Organ’, where he throws himself bodily and puppet-like over his keys, a display that is at once both invigorating and bewildering.

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And whilst the room is often filled with gritty experimentation and exhilarating activity, there is space for tenderness too. McNew and Hubley’s harmonies anchor the band in feeling, enriching the sound with a steady glow throughout the night. Hubley’s drums help to lead the mood too, at times her brushes gracefully dance across the skins, at others the more powerful snare slaps bring the stage in tune with their newest record. It is the trio’s ability to support each other sonically that makes Yo La Tengo’s eclectic setlist work, grinding together elements of blues, shoegaze, art-rock and noise rock through their chemistry.

Despite their initial insistence that tonight is not going to be one for audience participation (which we’re regretfully informed Manchester got plenty of the night before), Kaplan takes two fan requests during the encore - the first of these being ‘Emulsified’, an energetic reimagining of the Rex Garvin & The Mighty Cravers song, which was first covered by Yo La Tengo on their 1990 Fakebook album (the record perhaps being prophetic in name, but an ode to many 1960’s gems). The second cover request goes to ‘My Little Corner of the World’, which brings Hubley’s soft, transfixing vocals to centre stage, accompanied by a crew member who nobly whistles the song’s harmony. The crowd, of course, greet the whistling with a roar of good-natured appreciation. Closing with 'My Little Corner of the World', the final song from their crowd-favourite 1997 album I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, leaves the night with a warm feeling of both nostalgia and a gratitude for all the Yo La Tengo records and shows to come.

Featured image: Sam Cox

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