Yo La Tengo’s sound has always been consistently and gleefully eclectic. They build their songs layer-by-layer, drawing from a vast stockpile of musical and conceptual influences. Their output attests to a sincere and unrepressed pop geekery where genres and sub-genres are devoured and interpreted with rapturous triumph. Touring to support latest LP, Fade, this tour sees YLT playing two sets per show: the first a soothing and snug unplugged sort of affair, the second a smattering of classics and bangers that ends in about half an hour of terrifying guitar molestation. If you’re not a fan of Yo La Tengo, you probably should be.
Thirty years of being one of indie rock’s best loved bands apparently affords you more than a bit of good grace. The quieter first set impels a boozy Manchester crowd to shut the fuck up, the room brought to order by a swirling, hushed beauty. Fade dominates the first half, pitch perfect new songs like Ohm, Two Trains and I’ll Be Around punctuated and contextualised by the odd nod to the back-catalogue. Playing a load of new songs quietly could be a recipe for impatience and heckling but not a single attendee is unwilling to let the band make their own way through the gig.
The second half is out of the gate with the earnest lover’s rock of Stupid Things ahead of classics Moby Octopad and Autumn Sweater. Perched effortlessly between deliberate composed stability and freak flag flyin’ delirium, the twangy steady rhythmn section keeps the songs accessible while the lead guitar pisses and whines in glorious frustration. Rock history notes that the band have never been the most comfortabe in the spotlight and at times they seem so locked into each other that watching them perform can err towards the voyeuristic. It’s particuarly appreciated, then, when they treat us to the odd nostalgic anecdote from an undeniably interesting career.
The three-piece moves around the stage, switching instruments and taking turns at taking the reigns and their obvious affection for playing together prevents the democratic fluidity from being showy or distracting. In the second half of the second set, Before We Run, Nothing to Hide and Double Dare are bled into a ripping megajam, a more-or-less single warped guitar solo runs throughout and could run on all night and you wouldn’t be arsed.
Ohm is revisted before the end, it’s amped-up reworking a simple piece of evidence of the versatility of YLT’s writing - nothing is lost in either approach, the song just builds and contorts, it’s mood and message both apparently universally fitting. The encore consists of a couple of covers (Alternative TV and William DeVaughn because of course Alternative TV and William DeVaughn) and a polite, solicited request from the front row (the heavingly sexy From a Motel 6). The band smile humbly, say a gentle thank you each and exit to loving applause.
After I saw Almost Famous and started reading up on Lester Bangs I made an embarrassing foray into music journalism. It somehow lasted several years and (almost directly) took me to lots of foreign countries. I stopped because I realised that my opinion on rock and roll is meaningless and that I’m not a very good writer yet.
I have recently become too cheap to pay for gig tickets and so, with my tail wagging limply between my legs, I went cap in hand to an editor friend and asked if I could start reviewing gigs again. He said that yes, I could.
Dinosaur Jr. The Ritz, Manchester Friday, 2 February 2013
It’d be naive to expect any great surprises from a band in their 29th year together, and Dinosaur Jr. have never strayed too far from their early era-defining set-up. As the reformed Pixies coasted on their greatest hits and the remaining members of Nirvana rocked ghoulish benefit gig wank jams with a never-less-cool Paul McCartney, their contemparies in Dino Jr (reunited in 2005) kept their heads down and released three of their best albums yet.
Caution is always advised when you see a legendary act, some of the most disappointing gigs you’ll ever go to will be farted out by some of the once-best artists. But tonight it’s hard to imagine mosh-pit favourites like Freak Scene and Watch The Corners ever sounding better, the band’s complacent command of their (professional, if not personal) shit has them breeze through some of the most influential anthems of their genre as though they were sending pointless texts on a lunch break. This unlikely second act of the Dinosaur Jr. story is yielding peerlessly crucial new material and has the band appearing fresher and tighter than you expect they ever did back in the egos and barneys horse and buggy days.
The dinosaurs of the audience co-exist peacefully enough with the juniors. An apparently fashionable grunge revival adds a bit of energy to said mosh-pit and amongst the last train dad’s night out crowd are scattered a bunch of on-trend natty young’uns, unjustifiably shouting out for ‘old stuff’. This reunion of the orignal DJ line-up has now lasted longer than its initial run, making a good portion of tonight’s punters too young to remember even 2007’s comeback statement ‘Beyond’.
The band play with all three members downstage: the notorious prima donna J Mascis on the left, buried under long white hippy hair that changes colour with the disco lights, dominating his Jazzmaster with a detached Gen X cool; bassist and occasional frontman Lou Barlow is to the right, looking somehow younger than he did ten years ago as he hops about with an infectious chirp and a few quips to the crowd; between the two, Murph’s fuss-free balls-out approach proves a literal and symbolic ballast to his legendarily temperamental mates (he must be shattered).
An hour and a half flies by with more-or-less a nod to every album, including a welcome banger from Mascis and Barlow’s high-school hardcore band Deep Wound, “This is a song about not wanting to go to college!” Barlow redundantly grins before ripping shit out of his bass and shouting “I don’t want to go to college” lots of times over the course of about 80 seconds. He again takes the lead on new album instaclassic Rude, a by turns jaunty and creepy pop song with a melody so ethereally familiar that you must have heard it in the womb or something. Mascis, though, is the predidictable centre of attention, his fuzzed out psych-folk histrionics and half-asleep Neil Young drawl steering the gig, the band and, arguably, 30 years of American alt-rock.