The Upshot: Playing in the Philly suburbs on a week night, the band seemed to be enjoying every minute of the set.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
It’s been two decades since indie rock lifers Yo La Tengo pulled their tour bus into the Keswick Theatre parking lot. The nearly 100-year-old venue tucked away safely in the quiet Philly ‘burbs is a classic venue, but not the first one that comes to mind when you think of indie royalty.
Cleary Pope Francis didn’t both to check the band’s release schedule when booking his end of summer/last-fling vacation – a trip that has turned the streets of Philadelphia into the set of some dystopian B Movie, with parking lots and major roads off limits even days before the father could swing by Gino’s for a cheesesteak. The reason the band was relegated to the ‘burbs for the evening wasn’t lost on singer/guitarist Ira Kaplan; “Anyone going to see the Pope?” he asked between songs, which led to laughter and a few loud groans from the audience. Singer/drummer Georgia Hubley quickly added, “Ok, Pope discussion over,” before moving into the next song.
Despite playing to a half-full audience – thanks to public transportation limbo that was wreaking havoc on the city that week – the two set show was remarkable satisfying regardless. Billed as “An Acoustic Evening with Yo La Tengo,” bassist James McNew played a stand-up bass and Hubley set her stool aside for the evening, playing the drums standing up, mainly with brushes. The band even brought back Dave Schramm on guitar for this tour.
An early member of Yo La Tengo, his last full record with the band was 1990’s Fakebook – a mainly acoustic album comprising covers and five originals. With the band now touring behind Stuff Like That There, another quiet record of mostly covers, the addition of Schramm was a natural.
Regardless of the Act of God (or at least God’s emissary) factors the band faced playing the show that night, the group remained loose, even jovial, throughout the show. “This next song was written by a Muslim, so we’re going to send this one out to Ben Carson… That guy’s a nut,” he introed before moving into “Here Comes My Baby,” by Cat Steven’s. Playing a lot of material from Fakebook and the new album, there were a slew of ambitiously solid covers from The Cure, Devo, Johnny Cash, but the one that got the most approval was when the band launched into “Dreaming” by Philly adoptee Sun Ra.
“When we come to Philadelphia, we always do something by Sun Ra,” Kaplan said. “Maybe it’s not always good to the same thing…. But it’s freaking Sun Ra!” Even playing in the’ burbs on a week night, the band seemed to be enjoying every minute of the set. God knows the audience was.