Yo La Tengo
Veteran Indie shufflers Yo La Tengo are in Europe this month, in support of both their recent album I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Kick Your Ass, and their soundtrack to the Will Oldham movie Old Joy, for which they made a panel appearance at the London Film Festival. For they London show they booked up The Forum, with support from post-rockers Minotaur Shock.
There was anticipation in the air from the muso crowd, which included to my surprise a heavy set tough-guy tout that I had seen outside. He was re-directing people who were blocking the view of others, and was ready for a punch up when one guy was chatting as the band started.
For a band with such a vast back catalogue, the show was dominated by ...I Will Beat Your Ass for a good 75%. After a beautiful I Feel Like Going Home and a jaunty Beanbag Chair we were straight into the 10 minutes epic Pass The Hatchet.
The band had the aura of seasoned veterans, and the crowd were loving it. Ira read out an amusing item from the Independent regarding the dangers of being a drummer (Bloc Party have unsurprisingly fallen foul) and warned that Georgia would be taking it a little easy' tonight, but thankfully that was not the case. Working the stage like a three-man-one-man-band (or even a Marx Brothers musical interlude - Ira would be Chico), they swapped instruments and tasks seamlessly, avoiding the tedious, self-important setting-up delays that so many bands seem to fall into. The variation ads another dimension to their show and they easily motored through inspired versions of most of their awesome new album - plus a handful of older tracks, including a great Don't Have To Be So Sad.
While Ira and Georgia seem to have all the fun, you can't help but feel sorry for James who definitely gets the short straw - repeating the same bass-line for 10 minutes, while Ira freewheels along like an indie Hendrix. Sometimes that freewheeling goes too far off the tracks, and the songs get just too strung out - dwindling into free-jazz territory, and it was hard not to notice some of the crowd developing visible headaches - me included. This was most noticeable on Blue Line Swinger. The song disintegrated into 10 minutes of jazz-feedback - and while it did pay off with a great finale as the rhythm synced out of the chaos, it's hard to know if it was worth it. Much like Less Than You Think, the poison pill on Wilco's A Ghost Is Born.
Although they were chatty and the crowd certainly seemed engaged, the band can seem rather distant on stage. When the audience stop stroking their beards and get more involved the band softened up and it became more of a rock show that a performance. The encore put the whole thing up a notch and was they highlight of the show - with the band returning to the stage and literally taking requests from the audience, a technique which might be useful more often. It seemed that the audience were universal in their choice of favourites, and classics like Autumn Sweater show this band to be truly magnificent.