Yo La Tengo @ Corner Hotel

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Yo La Tengo @ Corner Hotel


The last time Yo La Tengo graced Australian shores it was as guests of the Melbourne Festival.  On that occasion Yo La Tengo played its ‘quiet/loud’ show in the auspicious and acoustically favourable confines of Hamer Hall.  Six months later, and Yo La Tengo was back in Australia for a national tour of that same performance; but while the format may have been notionally the same, with Yo La Tengo nothing is every completely the same.

Dick Diver were mid-way through their set by the time we walked in.  Apparently Dick Diver have been lumped into the patronising category of dolewave, with all its attendant subversions of the dominant political and economic culture; yet the only thing that really matters is the unbridled quality of the band’s pop songs.  It’s been about 15 years since I had the domestic space to loiter in a suburban backyard on a sunny Saturday afternoon, but Dick Diver takes you back, and reminds you of a simpler world.

Yo La Tengo’s advertised starting set was 20 minutes out of date by the time James McNew, Georgia Hubley and Ira Kaplan walked on stage.  McNew – looking almost like genetically mutated marriage between J Mascis and Lou Barlow – stood on the left of the stage, enigmatic as ever.

Hubley centre stage on a simple drum kit; again, there’s minimal flourish, and greater efficiency than Adam Smith’s optimally functioning market.  Ira Kaplan is the indie rock geek from central casting: frizzy hair, striped t-shirt, existing in perfect harmony with any melody, rhythm or vibe he chooses to explore. The contrast between the sets can be summed up in the different versions of Ohm.

The acoustic version heralds the beginning of the quiet set: at its peak it’s like a ‘70s sports car, quiet, sleek and stylish.  The loud version builds into a crescendo, the hotted up sedan taking control of the outer-suburban highway to the fascination of all in its wake.  The band members are in unison, simultaneously working the music into new and interesting shapes, and standing outside to admire the work they’ve created.

It’s loose enough to manipulate, yet impenetrably tight to the admiring eye and ear. In hindsight it’s difficult to decide which of the two sets was better: the quiet set because of its subliminal beauty, or the loud set for its elasticity and excursions into the sonic ether.

Kaplan is forever the proverbial kid in the candy store: does he really know what’ll happen each time he steps on stage? The band returned for an encore, including some ‘60s R’n’B courtesy of The Yardbirds and some post-Stones groove with The Flamin’ Groovies.  As the set ends there’s a sea of happy faces.  Yo La Tengo are a phenomenon: loose, but tight.


LOVED: The Yardbirds cover.

HATED: not anything, really.

DRANK: Goat, at south of the Yarra prices.