Report: Yo La Tengo Live in Portland

At the Wonder Ballroom on Feb. 18, the
band from Hoboken
spun the wheel and landed on… find out below! Opening act: legendary punk band
The Urinals. More tour details (including live Ustream broadcast, tonight, Feb.
20, from Eugene,
below.)

 

By Tim Hinely

Sold out crowd
for this Yo La Tengo tour (last time here, a year or so ago, they played the
larger Crystal Ballroom) but let’s not forget about the openers The Urinals,
for whom the place was only half full by the time they went on at 9:00 PM. The
first word that comes to mind when describing this longtime L.A. band is “seminal,” since that is the
word that critics use most often to describe them. They’d been around since the
late ‘70s but morphed into 100 Flowers in 1980. The band now is two-thirds of
the original lineup (vocalist John Talley-Jones and drummer Kevin Barret) and
then a newer guitarist (original member Kjehl Johansen quit some years ago to
go solo but was also in underrated SST band Trotsky Icepick).  The trio played an energetic, punchy set of
fairly short tunes (and surprisingly melodic) that really seemed to win the
crowd over. Don’t think we heard “I’m a Bug” but they definitely played “Sex,” “Surfing with the Shah,” “Ack
Ack Ack Ack” and more.  Well done,
gentlemen.

 

Yo La Tengo hit
the stage about 10:15 PM and for this tour the band is doing a little
spin-the-wheel for song selection. What is that, you ask? It is where they have
a big wheel on stage, bring out an audience member to spin it (in this case a
preppy looking blonde gal) and then whatever it lands on they will play that
for the night, or at least for the first set. It could have landed on several
different things: songs that begin with s, a set of Condo Fucks songs (YLT’s
alter ego), or a set of Dump songs (bassist James McNew’s solo project) or even
on where they act out an episode of Seinfeld for 20 minutes (sitcom theatre, we
ALL wanted that).

 

But when this
gal spun it landed on The Sounds of the
Sounds of Science
. This was the one thing many people in the crowd didn’t want it to land on (including
myself), as it was an instrumental record (released on the band’s own Egon
Records) that was moody and atmospheric and definitely not everyone’s favorite.
A few moments got quite frenzied, but all in all many folks were relieved when
it ended (two of my friends walked out and went home mid set). After taking a
short break the band came back out and reversed any unhappiness by playing “Sugarcube,” “Autumn Sweater,”
“Tears are in your Eyes,” “Stockholm Syndrome,” “Can’t Forget” and others. This
second set was the Yo La Tengo I know and love; one treat for me has always
been watching Georgia Hubley on drums, truly one of the underrated drummers of
our time.

 

In a
live setting you’re never sure what band is going to show up, and while a few
of these live performances over the years have sent me away scratching my head
(or occasionally bummed out), one must give credit to a band that does what it
wants and not necessarily what the fans always want. It probably keeps being a
band fresh and interesting for these guys and thus, explains at least part of
their longevity.

 

The Yo La Tengo/Urinals tour continues this
week on the West Coast. Dates can be found here. Also, there will be a live
Ustream broadcast from Eugene,
Oregon, tonight, with show time
approximately at 8pm (Pacific time) – go here to watch the webstream.

 

 

 

 

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