Yo La Tengo at First Ave

I requested review tickets for this show months ago, but I almost didn’t make it. I was running late, having stomach issues, and my concert buddy wasn’t picking up their phone. Despite all this, I rallied through my illness, woke my friend up from their nap, and we were off. By the time we got to First Avenue, the lines were around the block with SOLD OUT signs up on all the doors. We eventually got in and wriggled our way to get a decent view of the stage.

I must confess I am not the most knowledgeable fan of Yo La Tengo. They’ve been around since the late 1980s, and having just released their seventeenth album, they have a massive discography. I know the albums “I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One,” “And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out”, and “Painful” from front to back, and have been getting to know their newest release “This Stupid World” a lot recently. I’ve listened to their other albums sporadically, and some that I don’t know at all. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the show because of this, but I came in ready for anything.

The band came out and without saying a word, began playing the single “Sinatra Drive Breakdown” from the new release “This Stupid World”. I immediately noticed a guitar rack to the right of guitarist Ira Kaplan, with at least seven guitars hanging from it. In between most every song, a stagehand rushed in to swap the guitars. I was surprised by the degree of fluidity between the members. While the members stuck to their instruments around half of the time (Ira on guitar, Georgia on drums, James on bass), they showed their competency across the board as there were multiple times where everybody shuffled to play each other’s instruments. For example, there was a stretch where Georgia got up from her drums, hopped on the keyboard, and then to the mic for lead vocals. James moved to percussion a handful of times while Ira switched to the synth as well. It was really cool noticing how the play style changed when the band swapped their instruments.

After their fourth song, “The Summer,” Ira finally addressed the crowd and told them how happy they were to be back playing in Minneapolis after not playing here for a long time. There was some displeasure from the band about the removal of pinball machines from First Ave, to much agreement from the crowd (I think this predates the First Ave experiences I’ve had over the past four years). They then moved on to perform a few more songs from This Stupid World. After “Miles Away,” the band stepped off stage to take a break.

Around 20 minutes later, the band came back on, refreshed to play the second set. The second half had songs selected from a wider selection of their albums beyond the newest. I was thrilled to hear “Stockholm Syndrome” and “Autumn Sweater” off of “I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One” and a few songs from “Painful.” I was a little disappointed that they didn’t play anything from my personal favorite “And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out,” but that was abated when an older man with shoulder length white hair came on stage. I didn’t immediately recognize him, but when Ira introduced him as “Alan” I finally realized it was Alan Sparhawk from the legendary indie band Low. They finished the set with “I Heard You Looking,” going on for an astounding 10 minute performance. It was a real treat to get to see these legendary musicians play together.

They weren’t quite done though! After walking off stage, the band came back to play a few more songs. Ira shared with the crowd that his first time coming to Minneapolis, years before Yo La Tengo formed, was to see the historic Minneapolis band NNB play. He then invited Mark Freeman from NNB to perform a cover of the Neil Young song “Time Fades Away”. Alan then came back on to perform a lively cover of “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. The set then closed out with an enchanting cover of Sun Ra’s “Dreaming” sung by Georgia, setting us all off for the night.

Yo La Tengo put on a hell of a performance and did an impressive job playing from so much of their catalog. It was really cool to see the mix of audience, as there was a fun variety of older and younger fans. I’m really glad I got to see them perform and would definitely recommend any fan of them to catch them on tour!

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