November 13, 2007

¡Yo La Tengo Tocaron Su Música a Cornell!

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Yo la Tengo is known for its diverse sound. The Hoboken trio is constantly experimenting with different styles, moving easily from pop melodies to jazz grooves. At the best of times, YLT’s eclecticism has produced wonderfully complex yet unified music as on their 1993 album, Painful. Sunday’s show at Barton Hall was not one of these fortunate moments. Despite some glimpses of the integrated technique they have employed in the past, YLT’s set was marked by jarring discontinuities and limited dynamics.
The band opened with the ten minute, distortion-heavy “Pass the Hatchet, I think I’m Goodkind,” off of the recent album, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. A couple of these lengthy jaunts appear on the new album and are quite successful. They are characterized by a strong, suspenseful beat and melodies that carry over the feedback. On Sunday, YLT did not enjoy these saving graces. “Pass the Hatchet” quickly devolved into nauseating, monotonous noise. The vigorous rhythm that appears on the record evaporated, leaving behind a dull beat and even less interesting baselines.
An expanded version of “Little Eyes” held promise for several minutes. A slowly escalating backbeat and increasingly complex melody built tension and fed into the first verse with an exalted ease. However, this momentary cohesion soon degenerated into an odd fit of rock and roll antics. Guitarist Ira Kaplan suddenly smacked out an arbitrary ordering of notes befitting a mediocre punk song. For all of his musical zeal and eminent talent, Kaplan is no Pete Townshend and looked quite silly waving his guitar around and fumbling with his tuning. The sudden musical shift shattered whatever intensity the band had wrought during the intro.
“Mr. Tough,” the whimsical piano tune was one of the few songs that maintained clarity, although it suffered from Kaplan’s weak falsetto on the chorus. “Nuclear War,” YLT’s cover of the Sun Ra Arkestra song was fairly effective but was somewhat grating to hear immediately after the sad demise of “Little Eyes.”
A lack of dynamics and transition was the general failing. James McNew’s usually lively baselines fell flat, as did the drumming of Georgia Hubley. The heavy distortion was the most criminal misdeed. It hid the already obscured vocals and guitar melodies. “Watch out for me Ronnie,” a fast-paced garage-punk tune fell apart in a mess of feed-back that only detracted from the force of the song. Vocals were frequently uninteresting, particularly on “The Weakest Part,” and Kaplan was consistently so difficult to understand that the lyrical intent of most songs remained mysterious.
On their many albums, YLT have proven that they can blend their many influences. I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass demonstrates their skill at sustaining distortion-heavy rock jams. This performance was simply a terrible display of YLT’s music. The dynamics and emotional clarity that usually ignite their multi-faceted music were replaced by dead static; lyrical style disappeared into a mass of mumbling.