Live review: Yo La Tengo at The Jefferson Theater

Yo La Tengo played a hypnotic, satisfying set of sets at the Jefferson on Thursday. Image: Hank Strauss Yo La Tengo played a hypnotic, satisfying set of sets at the Jefferson on Thursday. Image: Hank Strauss

Hundreds of down-bundled, fashion scarved, and coiffed fans braved the low temps and shivered their way into the Jefferson to catch the Yo La Tengo sets on Thursday night.  It felt like a reunion. Hugs, kisses and backslaps all around as friends reminisced about previous shows from the stalwart career of the Hoboken trio.

YLT has set the DIY standard for a subset of indie music listeners for more than 20 years, innovating, experimenting without compromise—with a unique ability to recognize its own art form—and the critics’ darlings can still deliver the goods.

If the evening had a theme it was balance.  The show was divided into two distinctly different sets—the first hour billed as the quiet set, to be followed by the loud set.

The gentle rock warriors kicked off the night playing “Ohm,” from the new record (and played it again in the rockin’ set), to a full house—smiling and attentive—and a stage that was just as crowded with instruments, backed by a set design of wooden trees reminiscent of a school play.

The trio played its hushed numbers with laid-back confidence and shared the spotlight equally, loosening up between songs with some friendly banter.  Guitarist Ira Kaplan welcomed the audience with a wistful, “This is a nice place.  We are going to miss it.” Bassist (and former Corner Parking Lot attendant) James McNew interrupted with, “I saw Robocop here.”  Then Ira went on to warn, “Every venue we’ve every played in Charlottesville is gone the next time we come to town.  So tonight will either be the last time for the Jefferson, or for Yo La Tengo.”

Marked by undulating grooves and plaintive vocals punctuated with buzz, feedback and melodic restraint, the blanketing music was in perfect contrast to the winter cold. As the quiet set wound down with “Big Day Comin’,” the band’s urge to rock felt palpable.  One fan remarked, “Georgia is just waiting to get a hold of some real drumsticks!”,  as drummer Georgia Hubley had up to this point provided most of her graceful beats via brushes.

A loud set by YLT is something like letting the air out of a helium balloon, subtle but with great effect, and in need of pushing to really let out a burst.  Fully electrified the came back out with “Is That Enough” and with an audience elevated by social lubricant, heads began to nod and as soon as McNew kicked in to “Mr. Tough,” bodies started moving.

The night went on with all the earnest, thoughtful delivery of buzzing, feedback and gentle drum crushing that has sustained the rule of Yo La Tengo. The Beach Boys’ “Little Honda” finished the second set and covers of Ernie Chaffin ‘s “Feelin’ Low” and the Troggs “A Girl Like You” rounded out the encores.

The lights went up, the spell was broken, and we returned to the cold night warmed and soul satisfied.

 A local source provided us with the set list below.  Tell us your favorite YLT song by posting a comment.

Set 1 (acoustic): Ohm, Our Way To Fall, Cornelia and Jane, Black Flowers, Two Trains, When It’s Dark, That Point Of It, I’ll Be Around, Big Day Comin’ (Georgia vocals)
Set 2 (electric): Is That Enough, Before We Run, Double Dare, Tears Are In Your Eyes, Mr. Tough, Well You Better, Ohm, Nothing To Hide, Sugarcube, Little Honda (The Hondells)
Enc1: What’cha Gonna Do About It (Small Faces), Frenzy (The Fugs), With A Girl Like You (The Troggs)*
Enc2: Feelin’ Low (Ernie Chaffin)


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