If it weren't for the crowd's shouts and applause it would seem as if the guitar technicians had just taken the stage at the Met on Saturday. Yo La Tengo wasted no time on introductions before launching into their signature sound: spastic and meandering guitar lines over a tightly-knit background of thumping bass and drums.
The veteran Hoboken trio's casual approach drew on 27 years of experience. Frontman Ira Kaplan stood still as his bandmates began the familiar pounding beat of "Autumn Sweater," their best-known song off of 1997's stunning genre-buster I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One.
Bassist James McNew and drummer Georgia Hubley demonstrated remarkable versatility and precision throughout the show. During the noise jams and sonic experimentation, Hubley's chugging drums and McNew's looping bass provided a beautiful rhythmic texture for Kaplan's calculated chaos. Kaplan has an uncanny ability to use noise and feedback not as an excuse for lack of skill but to enhance his skill. Still, he could have refined his improvisation so that it didn't distract from his band members.
Eventually, Kaplan, whose tight grayblack curls are reminiscent of the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, began to engage the crowd with Kaufman-esque anxious wit. The band took questions briefly, pandering to a few impatient fans, before Kaplan introduced "Season of the Shark" as a response to how they spent September 11th, 2001 (though he assured the audience he would deny ever saying as much). Kaplan spoke sincerely of the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks, noting how easy it is to lean towards mawkish sentimentality or ironic distance.
The band resumed with a strong set of slower songs, trading vocal duties and instruments. Just as Kaplan's guitar stands out against the closely woven rhythm section, so does the near monotone of his voice against the softer ones of his bandmates. The band heeded the crowd's request to end their encore with a song from their 1990 cover album, Fakebook. They chose a subdued acoustic version of The Holy Modal Rounder's "Griselda." The crowd listened in silence as the band gently ended a solid set.
Greg Nissan B'15 demonstrated remarkable versatility and precision throughout this review.