concert reviews

Yo La Tengo: Smooth Harmonies With Some Sharp Edges
Yo La Tengo at the 9:30 Club, Washington, DC, Tuesday 26 September 2006

Yo La Tengo's opening song Tuesday night at the 9:30 club, "The Weakest Part," has harmonies so sweet that it's hard to believe it comes from an album titled "I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass." Thankfully, the trio rarely lived up to the gruffness of that title during a two-hour set: The group so excels at crisp, pretty pop songs that it would be a shame if it introduced roughness just for the sake of trying to stay fresh.

Even so, Yo La Tengo's version of pop is not all gloss, as sharper elements protruded from the songs' bouncy cocoon, such as Ira Kaplan's Neil Young-esque guitar solo on "Stockholm Syndrome," James McNew's sinister bass line on "Sudden Organ" and the lyrics about a scuffle on a train on the otherwise cheery-sounding "I Should Have Known Better." "Mr. Tough" found McNew and Kaplan singing together in a bizarre falsetto, while drummer Georgia Hubley switched to keyboards to sing the bewitchingly sedate "I Feel Like Going Home."

Yo La Tengo even managed to look backward with a fresh eye, offering a new, percussion-based rendition of an older song ("You Can Have It All"), paying tribute to the Velvet Underground ("She's My Best Friend") and indulging an audience request ("Paul Is Dead"), despite Kaplan's needing a few minutes to remember the song's chords.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 28 September 2006; Page C05
.: Selected discography: I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (Yo La Tengo, 2006); And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (Yo La Tengo, 2000); I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One (Yo La Tengo, 1997); Electr-O-Pura (Yo La Tengo, 1995); Painful (Yo La Tengo, 1993); Fakebook (Yo La Tengo, 1990); President Yo La Tengo / New Wave Hot Dogs (Yo La Tengo, 1989 / 1987; r:1996).