In the ten years since Yo La Tengo last performed in San Diego, California, the band has released three full length LPs, a covers album, a Christmas album, an instrumental album, a shitload of EPs and singles and various soundtracks for films like Old Joy and Junebug. They even appeared in the season finale of Gilmore Girls, which was very trippy. This band tours a lot, and with each subsequent album since 1997’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, they've passed through southern California. But not since 1997 did the bus ever pull off Interstate 5-South for a night in San Diego.
I honestly don’t blame them. San Diego is a great place to live and raise kids, but for the most part, (especially in La Jolla), there is nothing but douche bags galore. Which is why I was relieved to see that the sold out 492 seat Sherwood Auditorium (located at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art) was not filled with vanity and pretense, but devout Yo La Tengo fans. For many in attendance, this would be the first chance they had to see the band live, and in what is perhaps the most ideal setting for the bulk of their music.
Billed as the “The Freewheeling Yo La Tengo”, this tour stands apart from their previous outings in that they invite audience Q & A, often fielding requests as well, and giving explanations about the songs and lyrics before performing them. What’s most unique about this sit down, quasi-acoustic setting is that it finally allows the band to perform their pop songs in a hushed environment, one where Georgia’s ghost-like vocals don't have to battle against guitar amplification and crowd chit chat, (and I’d like to note there was absolutely zero crowd chatter at all; you could hear a pin drop at any given point throughout the two hour performance).
There was also no external microphone present for the audience Q & A aspect of the evening; people were encouraged to shout out random questions and requests from all corners of the auditorium. This could have gone badly considering the random douche bag factor that San Diego always promises, but amazingly enough, most of the questions seemed thought out and prepared; in other words, there were no dumbass questions like, “What does Yo La Tengo mean?” Although there were some retarded queries like, “What do you play for your children?” and the perennial crowd favorite, “You’re in San Diego!” which is actually more of a statement than an actual question.
Without a guest warm up for the evening, the show began around 7:45 with Georgia Hubley on drums, Ira Kaplan on guitar, and James McNew on bass, opening with “The Weakest Part”, a song off their latest album I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass. Unlike their other tours, this is the set up they would maintain over the next two hours. They were “Freewheeling” but they certainly weren’t going to get up and switch instruments, as there was no real need to do so. The evening was very much, for the most part “acoustic”, save for the fact that McNew was playing a plugged-in electric bass and Kaplan’s acoustic guitar was being run through several effects pedals, a fact that enabled him at any given moment to turn his soft acoustic strumming into a metallic crush of sonic distortion. With Hubley only needing to focus on a snare, floor tom and a single cymbal, she was left with plenty of room to concentrate on her singing; truly one of the highlights of catching Yo La Tengo live.
They followed up with a request of “Griselda” from 1990’s Fakebook. The Q & A/Beat Happening vibe proved to work incredibly well, as the band weaved through questions about their last day jobs: “Georgia and I were proof readers for soft core porn,” and the film Pootie Tang: “That’s probably the best film of all time,” explained McNew.
At one point during the show, someone in the front row who had brought young children made one of his or her kids request a song. Now, for what it’s worth, it was kinda cute to hear a little girls’ voice request “Mr. Tough”, but at the same time, I always question people’s motivations for doing things like that in a public forum such as this. Was this a devout Yo La Tengo fan instilling a unique memory and sense of character in his child? Or was this some hipster asshole who parades his child around San Diego in a tiny Bright Eyes t-shirt just so everybody knows what kind of bitching CD collection he has? The kid was able to squeeze out a decent request for “Pablo y Andrea” during the encore though, so I can’t help but say thanks, as that was something I’ve been waiting to hear performed live for quite sometime. Kudos you little bastard… kudos indeed.
The band played a lot of covers, but the highlight for all in attendance was their rendition of “Needle of Death”, a cover of a Bert Jansch song off their 2003 EP, Today Is The Day. One question raised was perhaps the most fitting as it came right in the middle of the show: “Will there be a live album from this tour?” In all honesty, this is the ideal way to see and hear Yo La Tengo. The band was able to hit all the pop and sonic notes in this controlled setting, and it would be a terrible shame to see these performances go undocumented in some shape or form.