Yo La Tengo keeps things personal
BY: ANGELA RATZLAFF
The staggered line snaked along the building, reached the end of the dimly-lit street and continued around the corner. Young teens, older adults and college-aged hipsters craned their necks towards the glow of Fingerprints record shop, itching with anticipation to see an intimate performance with Yo La Tengo. “I think it’s an important space,” Cal State Long Beach history graduate Cory Campbell said while waiting in the midst of eager fans. “It’s a hub for the community. So many people can come and interact with each other.”
Campbell was just one of many who stood in line outside the Long Beach record shop on Jan. 16 to see the 8 p.m. performance of alternative music originators, Yo La Tengo. In celebration of their latest release “Fade,” the trio journeyed to the west coast to perform some warm-up gigs before they return east to start their world-wide tour later this month.
The group formed in 1984 as a husband and wife duo, with Georgia Hubley on drums and Ira Kaplin on guitar and vocals. The addition of bass player James McNew in 1992 finalized the band’s current lineup. An iconic sound of sleepy pop music and catchy melodies soon defined the band. Sharing similarities to other alternative groups from the late 1980s early 1990s, like Sonic Youth and The Pixies, the group has ceaselessly continued to ride the alternative music wave.
Yo La Tengo returned with their 13th album with the use of familiar sounds like high-reverbed guitars, classic poppy melodies and richly toned brass and wind sections.
“I think it’s just another way of coming up with new sounds,” Hubley said about working with classical instruments. “[The sounds] help express what you want the song to express. And it’s fun. It’s another instrument, another texture and it’s a nice way of thinking about arranging a different kind of music, bringing in different types of instruments.”
In order to gain admittance into the Yo La Tengo show, fans had to pre-purchase a physical copy of “Fade.”
“It’s nice to have a tangible form of music instead of everything being downloaded,” University of California, Irvine biology major Estelle Vincent said. “You kind of get to know things. It’s more of an effort to collect and buy records … it’s a huge financial jump.”
Even though buying records and physical formats of music can burn holes in the pockets of younger college students, Chapman University education major Ryan Tyson didn’t hesitate when purchasing the “Fade” CD.
“I actually don’t know [Yo La Tengo’s] music very well,” Tyson said. “It’s more of a discovery thing.”
As the fans waited in line, Fingerprints employees handed out various formats of the new Yo La Tengo merchandise, including CDs, an LP vinyl format and a deluxe LP, which includes a bonus seven inch single featuring two unreleased covers.
With their records in hand, fans trickled into the shop, taking places at the front and sides of the stage that was set up in the back of the store. Red milk crates held up two amplifiers that sat next to Hubley’s drum set. Weathered guitars were sprinkled on stage, in between microphones and behind pedals.
“This will be a little more stripped down than what our normal rock show will be like, and it will be shorter and a little bit more informal,” Hubley said. “Which is nice, but it’s a little different than what a regular show would be.”
After an announcement from Fingerprints owner Rand Foster, the band stepped up to the stage and created chaotic reverb from their electric guitars before starting in on tracks from “Fade.”
Kaplan’s sleepy vocals paired nicely with McNew’s full-bodied bass guitar and Hubley’s simplistic approach to the drums. The band submerged themselves into songs like “I’ll be around” and the first single off of the album “Ohm,” which was performed the night before on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” in New York.
Even though most of the performance was laid back and acoustic, Kaplan and McNew were not afraid to bend and twist their electric guitars. At times, Kaplan resembled a vine getting lashed by the wind while cranking out high-voltage guitar solos and grinding the instrument on the microphone stand only to return with his trademark quiet, deep vocals.
In order to get into a “west coast mode,” Kaplan led the trio into playing a Beach Boys cover of The Ronettes “I can Hear Music.” The calming rendition of the 1960s tune took on classic Yo La Tengo melodic influences, making audience members sway and tap their feet to the music.
For their final song, the group performed a fan request: a stripped-down rendition of “Is that Enough,” with Hubley on lead vocals, McNew on 12-string acoustic guitar and Kaplan on acoustic guitar and background vocals.
The short and to-the-point seven-song set left fans in a daze as they filed in line to get their records and posters signed by the band.
“It was ethereal,” Riverside Community College commercial music major Leandro Barrientos, who stood in the midst of CD racks during the show, said. “They still projected the music and got across what they were trying to do. It was like putting headphones on.”
Barrientos, who gripped onto his “Fade” LP while waiting in line to meet the band, said that there has been a trend in buying physical formats of music in the past year.
“There’s been an increase in record sales. It’s increased 110 percent,” he said. “People are more able and willing to spend money on an artist that wrote the music and inspired them.”
Even though the band members are from a generation that has grown up buying music in a physical format, Hubley said that each format, digital or physical, has its purpose.
“Every generation changes,” she added. “I think it’s nice to have a physical thing to know what you’re listening to, to put an identity to it, as opposed to just a song that you hear, and you know the song, but you don’t think about who it is or what it is. When you have an actual record, it’s maybe got pictures or information, [and] you can kind of connect more to that artist. And I think that I like that. I hope that influences people if they buy records or listen to records, rather than just this virtual thing.”
For their west coast pre-tour, the group set out to play three other record stores, including both the Los Angeles and San Francisco Amoeba locations as well as Seattle’s Easy Street Records. The group will then return to the east coast to start their official tour for “Fade.”
“It’s been a while since we’ve done a long tour, so it should be a lot of fun,” Hubley said. “It’s great to be able to play music every day. This is a new record that we have, and some of these songs we barely played live. Playing them live is different than recording them, so as we go do it more and more, they will start to take on their own life in a live situation.”