By: Greggory Moore
The world's greatest bands playing the indie record shop a half-mile from your home? It's not likely to become a trend, but for a lucky little trice Yo La Tengo is making this rock 'n' roll fan fantasy come true for a few of us here on the West Coast this week, with their four-stop in-store tour supporting Fade, a work that bears concise but ample witness that a band can still be at their very best more than a quarter-century removed from their debut album. Talk about staying rooted!
After what we'll call a warm-up gig Tuesday night on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, we hope the trio got a good night's sleep, because in the morning they jet-setted 3,000 miles for their first stop: Fingerprints in Long Beach (capacity: 250).
As singer/guitarist Ira Kaplan quasi-apologetically noted, Yo La Tengo was at Fingerprints to push their new album (as welcome as the push may have been), and so the eight-song set was three-fourths Fade, with a Beach Boys cover (no, not "Little Honda"--and yes, I know that's not Beach Boys) and "Sugarcube" (played as finely as when they recorded it 16 years ago) tossed into the mix.
But this was about Fade, and after the briefest of introductions by Fingerprints
owner Rand Foster, the planet's most regular-seeming tripartite musical divinity took to the tiny stage. "Paddle Forward" was an appropriate start, YLT in its most straightforward pop/rock stance, chugging away at a sort of a cross between "Tom Courtenay" and "Nothing to Hide". "Stupid Things" followed, with James having switched from bass to 12-string electric, Georgia laying down a perfectly unwavering rhythm, and Ira taking us spelunking with one of those clean, echoic solos, close your eyes and you feel the cool breeze flowing up the shaft you're exploring.
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The more or less perfect sound (YLT soundguy unobtrusively doing yeoman's work at downstage right) made it easy to get lost in the grooving textures (the perfect unwavering bass line of "I'll Be Around," the tribal toms and rim taps underpinning the stately "Before We Run" and its impeccable, perhaps inevitable, glorious guitar freakout), all with a combined volume thankfully no louder than necessary, so that even those of us five feet away didn't take tinnitus home.
You're gonna force me to choose a highlight? I'll go with album opener "Ohm," the danciest tune of the night. An appropriately Indian 12-string drone set to a maraca-spiced steady four with a three-part lead vocal, you know it's a YLT classic as soon as the band begins to sing: "Sometimes the bad guys come out on top / Sometimes the good guys lose...."
Yo La Tengo likes to close with something soft, and this show was no exception, the gently haunting "The Point of It" bringing the proceedings to a conclusion. The crowd called out for more, just one more, but there had been far too much specialness for anyone to really be disappointed when the threesome left the stage almost without a word. And they had to be tired, right? Even so, they stuck around to chat and sign things with for a long line of happy folks, never letting the jetlag show. Just another day at the office for Yo La Tengo. Have music, will travel.