Live: Lambchop And Yo La Tengo Bring The Quiet To (Le) Poisson Rouge

lambchop_april19.jpg
Lambchop w/ Yo La Tengo
(Le) Poisson Rouge
Thursday, April 19


Better than: A slow, sensuous makeout session, punctuated by the occasional slow, sensuous yawn, which ideally is taken more as a sign of relaxation than boredom, but whatever, stop reading so much into it.

Well here unfolded a lovely surprise: Last night's opener Charlie Horse was none other than Yo La Tengo, flying under the music-snob radar, here to celebrate their "favorite holiday: the day Lambchop comes to New York." Georgia, Ira and James offered up a beautifully mumbled set—Georgia using brushes on the drums throughout--in a nod to the headliner's unnaturally restrained palette. By the end they had added Lambchop's pianist for color, remaining rather muted all the same.

While packed with tables and standing fans, (Le) Poisson Rouge demonstrated a mature silence throughout the night: someone might have been severely shushed, had they dared to make a sound. But the scene was rapt, frozen, vulnerable only to a smattering of whispers that often managed to seem, if not part of the show, an appropriate peripheral event.

Yo La Tengo rounded out their performance with plenty of crowd-pleasers: a Kinks cover; a tribute to Art Jenkins, of the Sun Ra Arkestra, who had passed away that day; an acoustic take on "Sugarcube" and a sultry roll through "Our Way To Fall." The songs got recognized and applauded at the first bars; it was clear that this sector of subtle-rock connoisseurs knew what luck this was.

And then: jeez. Well. Okay. Kurt Wagner, in a black baseball cap, took the stage with his band, picking up a guitar whose headstock was bristling with uncut strings. It's the sort of thing you might be ridiculed for, unless you played with the cool micro-dynamics Wagner did, wringing vibrato sometimes from the neck, such that the transparent wire quivered in the spectral light and fog. Lambchop's set was fraught with these low-threshold perceptions, jazzy gradations of almost similar ideas. At a certain point you remembered the strings, this bizarrely sloppy detail in an otherwise fussed milieu, and wondered: well, why is it normal to trim them?

They played, of course, smoldering songs from the soft Mr. M, mutated entirely by choices too immaterial to pin down—"Gone Tomorrow," "Mr. Met" and "Kind Of" nonetheless bright in the mix. These bled out into older work like "Soaky In The Pooper," much the way the five instruments themselves (guitar, bass, drums, synthesizer and grand piano) would braid together to make one gesture in a song. They also played a birthday number—specifically for a woman named Lila, the lone audience member to confess a birthday, who sat on stage and sipped a free drink and swung her foot semiconsciously to a shy or at least elusive beat.

We saw a sensitivity to space, reaction to the air. It doesn't take much to turn heads when this kind of stillness binds a room. One derails on the question of what the band did and when, or on a genre tag as ridiculous and difficult to parse as "alternative country." Instead the primacy of their filigreed tone fine-tuned the senses, making us re-hear even the incidental static. With so much power behind so little noise, the band is a monumental ghost, a boulder reflected in the lake. I'd quit biting my nails two weeks before, but the surface tension here caused a relapse, and left one index finger raw.

Critical bias: A big part of what makes music stick to me is the quality of its atmosphere, which is to say I do most of my listening on headphones, at the office, and need a sound both minimal enough to thrive in fluorescent light and commanding enough to block out whatever passive-aggressive conversation may be dominating the newsroom at any given moment.

Overheard: A guy who, after every song, declared "All right!" in a not-very-loud but certainly loud-enough-to-be-heard-in-this-context voice, causing nearby concert-goers to trade uneasy glances with each other, unsure if the voice's owner was being very stoned or very sarcastic (but quite sensitive to the latter possibility).

Random notebook dump: Oh how it sucks to be a drink-laden waitress weaving through this or any other crowded mess.

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3 comments
Brian Snapp
Brian Snapp

I'm going to let it out, if you weren't able to get tickets to this show you were spared a form of torture: LPR is a venue that shouldn't have "standing room only" for this act with this volume of people. It was extremely uncomfortable to be standing during the show because of the set up. Le Poisson Rouge failed in a major way by having tables against the back wall in the main part of the room. As much as I was torn, a friend and I left the show after the 4th song. I kept getting shoved by wait staff trying to the get to tables. I tried moving between songs so as not to disturb anyone and I'd be blocked by a pole or a taller person. I was left thinking about the many tables that had empty seats, and maybe I could go ask to sit down. But there were no ushers to be seen. The seats at the back with a walking aisle in between made it so you could not stand where you could see or hear because you'd block a seated audience member. If you had to stand by the bar (and if you were standing you pretty much had to stand by the bar), you were under the ducts of a sound-blocking, low-handing air duct, and behind you the bar noise and loud humming of an A/C or refrigerator noise made enjoying the music impossible. The mix was extremely restrained for volume, piano, Kurt's proximity to a mic, the quiet dynamic beauty of the music, I could go on forever -- the mix was pristene, but the volume was too low if you were standing on the side. This, at least for me, was a mild torture, but one that felt like it would increase. The poles blocked any full view of the band (you were lucky if you could see the drummer, or Kurt, but very few lucky people standing could see both). If you bought a table seat (which were sold out by the time we got tix in february) and you were sitting in the middle of the room, I'm sure the show was immaculate. I decided to live vicariously through you, and leave.

Tommy
Tommy

It was hard to be rapt if you had a general admission ticket and had to listen to the air conditioner (?) or whatever it is above the bar area that was almost as loud as the music. Pretty uncomfortable, irritating experience. They had no business selling that many tickets for the standing room only portion of the crowd. Love Lambchop and the new record, though.

George Suter
George Suter

I happened to be lucky enough to buy a 'table ticket' for the show from someone who finally couldn't go that evening. (I'd like to say a big thank you to her, wherever she is!) and I realized how lucky i was when I had to push through the standing crowd between sets. Just thought I'd sympathize, as I know exactly what you mean. It's happened to me. You probably did the right thing to leave. (Saw you leaving actually!) Better luck next time.

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