Having woken up late for breakfast the morning indie rock was served, I totally missed out on Yo La Tengo. By rights, Yo La Tengo and the Matador cohort should’ve been mainstays of WDRE playlists, yet somehow they were lost in a miasma of Morrissey, Belly and other early nineties alternative rock faves. Some say that critics are the art of pretend forgetfulness, but the formative years of critical listening are often those that are most embarrassing. So consider this post my mea culpa for being so late to the table that fateful day.
In short, Yo La Tengo may be the most durable and versatile band to ever suffer the “indie rock” hairshirt. Their ability to shift from art rock guitar torture one moment to the Fauxtown sound the next is more than a little mindblowing when you consider how few bands in the genre succeed at doing either.
Their show last Saturday at Philly’s once venerable Troc was no exception. Opening with “Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind,” the epic opening track to 2006’s I’m Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, a BMIML fave that didn’t make the year end cut, Yo La Tengo separated wheat from chaff. Then again, I think I’ve underestimated YLT’s fanbase: you don’t stick with a band for more than twenty years without having a real thirst for the unexpected, so the tonal shift from a guitar workout to the vamping schtick of “Mr. Tough” comes as no surprise.
But perhaps the biggest part of what makes Yo La Tengo such a special band to their fans, and what wins them new ones are their abilities as showmen. Their chemistry both as musicians and as entertainers belies their professionalism and how seriously they take themselves as artists. But for a band that rivals Sonic Youth by consistently producing excellent music and playing engaging performances on the road, it’s hard to imagine that neither has become a caricature of itself, even if IANAOYAIWBYA may be a joke in that direction. I know we’re supposed to be post-canon [and seemingly post-taste], but it’s unassuming bands like Yo La Tengo who keep it alive, however unintentionally, by defying the everything that came to be known as indie rock.