This Monday, June 20, alternative rock veterans Yo La Tengo bring their “Spinning Wheel” tour to The Blue Note. One lucky audience member will get to spin a giant wheel on stage and determine the course of the show—whether the band will play only songs that begin with an “s” or act out an entire Seinfeld episode, as they did in Chicago recently. (Mind you, they acted out the entire episode, not just part of it; watch here if you have the patience.) But not to worry: the band plays a regular Yo La Tengo set after the bizarre conceptual one.
“Yo la tengo” means “I have it” in Spanish. While the band’s name actually refers to a baseball anecdote, it could just as well describe the elusive “it” factor that’s sustained them for so many years. Yo La Tengo began as a husband/wife project for Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley in 1984, the same year Katy Perry, Mandy Moore, and Ashlee Simpson appeared on the planet and Wham! jitterbugged “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.” I was in second grade and much more interested in Bananarama and Fashion Plates than in some underground band from Hoboken, New Jersey, that would one day be the darling of alternative music critics without ever achieving mainstream success (the usual fate of critically acclaimed “thinking man’s” bands). In the grand scheme of progressive rock history, these guys have been around a LONG TIME but always just under the radar.
Band mates have come and gone over the years; the current lineup is a trio including Kaplan and Hubley and James McNew on bass. With 12 studio albums under their belts, Yo La Tengo has had time to explore and evolve their sound, dabbling in everything from low-key REM-style pop to Sonic Youth-inspired drone rock, finally landing on their current mix of strings, piano, horns, and guitars paired with falsetto vocals and smart lyrics. In 2002 they released The Sounds of the Sounds of Science, an album of documentary film music, and followed it up with film scores for sleeper hits like Junebug and Adventureland. The band’s recent releases include the spectacularly titled I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (2006) and Popular Songs (2009). It seems the “it” that Yo La Tengo has is actually a little bit of everything.
Listen for yourself. In this live performance of “Mr. Tough,” Ira Kaplan lays his falsetto down over a metronomic riff just begging for more cowbell.
Come see what gives Yo La Tengo their staying power. Doors at The Blue Note open at 7:30. Tickets are $20.