Yo La Tengo presented both sides of the coin in a rare and memorable Liverpool showing for the trio, Getintothis’ Alistair Houghton wrapped himself up in squalling feedback, indie tenderness and Pete Best revisionism.
Cool but far from frosty, the nicest trio in New Jersey made a rare visit to Liverpool to support themselves, pay tribute to a Beatle or two and screech and skronk and crack out the guitar histrionics with a zeal that would make late Lou Reed giggle in his grave.
First, beneath the band slipped quietly on stage to whisper their way into Ohm, the first number in their nine-song acoustic set.
Gentle, whispering, at times metronomic, they kept the EVAC crowd gently spellbound with their beautiful harmonizing melancholy on songs from this year’s I’ll be Around to 1993’s Big Day Coming.
But the melancholy couldn’t be sustained when the unfailingly nice singer-guitarist Ira Kaplan came to the mic, always politely.
“I think it’s only the third time we’ve ever been here,” he said. “So what’s new?”
There were two smiley false starts, politely handled by Kaplan and singer/drummer Georgia Hubley, before Big Day Coming closed set one. And soon the other YLT came out for set two – just as nice, but much, much louder.
This was noisy, feedback-strewn, segueing from song to song from vicious abandon, all held down by Hubley’s steady beat.
By the second song, False Alarm, screaming bass feedback from James McNew was drowned out by Kaplan’s monumentally screaming keyboard, channeling the spirit of John Cale’s skronking from Sister Ray.
Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan wrings some feedback from his guitar at East Village Arts Club, Liverpool
And later – like on his reprise of Ohm, Kaplan proved anything but polite when it came to his guitar solos, hammering, drawing unearthly screams, and even taking his guitar off his shoulders to wield it like a shovel, digging unheard-of feedback squeals.
Even on the comparatively soft Beanbag Chair, the soloing was epic and yet never indulgent.
Finally, amps a-squalling, they wandered offstage – before returning, politely of course, to take a request for their first encore.
A short and polite chat with the crowd later, Kaplan smiled: “The young lady in the front had requested a song from our Popular Songs record, called Nothing To Hide. We’d be only too happy to play that for you.”
They did, before a frenzied cover of The Fugs’ Frenzy.
Yo La Tengo’s James NcNew at East Village Arts Club, Liverpool
And then, Kaplan addressed the crowd for one last time.
“There’s two types of people in the world,” he said.
“People who come to Liverpool and are too cool to mention the Beatles. And we’re in the other half.
“We won’t play a Beatles song,” he smiled, “but we will play a song by one of the Beatles.”
A cry from the crowd sent Kaplan musing on the subject of Pete Best.
“We saw Pete Best play live in Hoboken, New Jersey,” he said.
“If you’re anything like us you’ll know his great record The Way I Feel About You.
“This is not a Pete Best song, but nevertheless.”
And so Hubley took centre stage for a lovingly gentle acoustic finale of George Harrison’s From Behind That Locked Door.
And with that, the nicest band from New Jersey was gone, their howling gales of sound warming all our hearts. And making us all want to play air ostrich guitar on the way home.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Simon Lewis.
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