December 6, 2002

From the Horse's Mouth

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Season’s greetings! This year I’m a happy stallion. Why, you ask? Well, last night some cosmic convergence and a bit of luck brought me to the second night of Yo La Tengo’s annual Hanukkah celebration in Hoboken’s very own Maxwell’s. It was a terrific night.

I remember the first time I heard about Yo La Tengo. I was talking to a philosophy professor and he was praising them. I asked what they sounded like. He hesitated and then simply said “Important.” Now, I was pissed and took this to be bullshit indie-rock elitism with the usual truth value — loud bark and a bite that doesn’t even break the skin. A couple months later I got a Yo La Tengo CD and discovered a great band. After hearing their record I wanted to hear it again, but didn’t understand where the “importance” lay. Last night I realized that Yo La Tengo is an incredible band, and, yes, they’re important. Important for whom, you ask? Well, for many people walking around the Cornell campus for one, whether those people realize it or not. These are the people that, for the last couple of years, have surrounded themselves with culture past and present. And not just a specific type, all kinds of culture. People whose record collections flow from Charlie Patton to Jim O’Rourke, who in a given day listen to Mozart, Mingus, Method Man, and Motorhead. Country, blues, jazz, rock, rap. We sample and love all. We feel equally at home in each. We’re open to all sorts of artistic expression. The independent underbelly of pop culture occupies a lot of our brain cells and there’s more of us than most believe. Yo La Tengo is important because they capture the essence of this aforementioned “we”.

It was a tiny club where celebrities, musicians, and fans talked together without awed glances or pretensions. There was a free-jazz band. A hilarious stand-up comedian was followed by a set of music that ranged from jazzy instrumentals and distorted noise assaults to a clarinet driven cover of “Venus in Furs”. The three members of Yo La Tengo shifted between a multitude of instruments with remarkable ease. At the end they were joined on stage by Jon Cameron Mitchell (the mastermind of Hedwig) whose renditions of Bowie and Lou Reed were out of this world. The vibe of the whole evening was of genuine collaboration between different spheres of culture. It was as if YLT’s musical versatility was reflected into a larger whole, a whole of cultural versatility and exchange. In short, it was “important.” Peace, “the dark horse”

Archived article by Maxim Pozdorovkin