Live: Yo La Tengo (With Stephin Merritt, Britt Daniels, and Ira's Mom) at Maxwell's
photos by Liz Clayton, via the Yo La Tengo diary
Yo La Tengo
December 21 and 22
"Don't be scared!" some dude catcalled at Georgia Hubley during one of the quiet parts of the first night of Yo La Tengo's annual Hanukkah spectacular at Maxwell's. "Oh, I'm not scared," she shot back. This isn't your 40-something record dork's dimunitive Yo La Tengo, anyway. (Maybe your 30something's.) After all, their next album is called Fuckbook. Playing side-by-side all night with Quasi/Jicks drummer Janet Weiss, Hubley and company settled into the nook-like stage they've been playing since before there was grunge.
Between YLT holiday standards (Gary U.S. Bonds's #27 smash, "Seven Day Weekend," repurposed) and greatest hits ("Sugarcube," "Tom Courtenay"), the show felt a bit like a warm-up. But a warm-up that also included a Sun Ra-like feedback jam on "Little Honda" (Hubley and Weiss donning guitars for the occasion) and Spoon's Britt Daniel camping his way through a four-song encore, including Amy Winehouse's "Me and Mr. Jones." With the streetlights reflecting from Hoboken's ice-coated sidewalks, the warmth was totally welcome.
But the funny thing about these Hanukkah variety shows is that the best guests are sometimes the furniture--like the upright piano the Magnetic Fields brought along last night, the second of YLT's all-star eight-night stand. A menorah sat candelabra-like atop it and Ira Kaplan began the show there. "The portion of this evening in which you do not require earplugs has about another three minutes," he warned. (Too bad former Tenacious D M.C. Paul F. Tompkins, who opened night one couldn't have made the announcement.) Following an NPR-like double-frappaucino opener of the mega-casual Fields and This American Life regular John Hodgman, YLT certainly made good on the promise of volume.
The piano didn't go unused, serving gorgeous versions of Summer Sun's "Winter A Go-Go" and--aided by Claudia Gonson and Sam Davol of the Magnetic Fields, on drums and cello--"Don't Have To Be So Sad." Sometimes, too, the best guests just aren't the marquee names. Though Merritt duetted with Kaplan on Irving Berlin's "Be Careful, It's My Heart," it was Doug Gillard's takes on Gershwin and Herman's Hermits that won the night. And, of course, Ira's mom singing Anita Bryant. She kicked ass, too. --Jesse Jarnow