Last Night: Yo La Tengo at Fitzgerald's

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Yo La Tengo Fitzgerald's May 2, 2013

It's such a treat to see a band like Yo La Tengo perform at a club the size of Fitzgerald's, and that was clear during their headlining set on Thursday night. Sure, they play to hundreds more people at most of their other gigs, but anyone in attendance - including the band - could tell you we were the lucky ones.

We all knew headed into the show, billed as "An Evening With Yo La Tengo," was going to be a full dose of the New Jersey-based genre-bending trio. What wasn't known was how much the crowd was going to eat it up. The mostly thirtysomething audience featured more sets of glasses than I've ever seen at a show. These were music nerds in the best way imaginable.

Ira Kaplan, his wife Georgia Hubley and longtime bassist/auxiliary drummer James McNew proved that no matter what they brought to the incredibly attentive Houston crowd, it would be accepted wholeheartedly by everyone in the room.

Music Feature:

Yo La Tengo's Slow Fade

When the band started the evening off in an acoustic format, the growing audience knew they were in for one hell of an evening. While chatty crowds have been a thorn in Houston's collective side, this evening was something different. Both Yo La Tengo and those witnessing the set were so quiet that the loudest sound in the building during the first set was the crash of a bottle hitting the bottom of a trash can.

It was actually quite the sight to be seen. If anyone has been to a club gig in Houston, they know how loud we can be. It felt almost as if I were combing the halls of a gallery, an art exhibit where the main attraction was Kaplan, Hubley and McNew.

Yo La Tengo have such a storied career, with Kaplan and Hubley playing music as a husband/wife duo since 1984 (only one year after this writer was born) and, with the addition of McNew, as a trio since the early '90s. They have released a catalog that rivals several of the greatest bands of our time, and have ridden a wave of critical success for many, many years.

Still, though, most people don't really know much about Yo La Tengo, which was noticeable in the size of the crowd; I figured a sellout, but that wasn't the case. This is one of the best and most storied bands to set up their instruments on the Fitz stage in quite some time, and anyone who can claim fandom of Yo La Tengo and wasn't at this show should know that he or she missed out on something special.

The acoustic start to the evening featured a heavy helping of material from their latest album Fade, as well as a reading of "The Weakest Part" from 2006's I Am Not Afraid of You And I Will Beat Your Ass and a set-closing "Black Flowers" from the same album. Then Yo La Tengo took a 30-minute break while their techs set up for the electric portion of the evening. The crowd, which did a great job in focusing their undivided attention on the acoustic segment, was noticeably restless towards the end, and anxiously awaiting the livelier plugged-in session that was yet to come.

The electric portion was what I've come to expect from a Yo La Tengo show. Dashes of psychedelic goodness mish-mashed with delicate vocal approaches and a touch of spacey, droney funk thrown in for good measure. The question of what is a jam band comes up every time I see this group live, and with numerous lengthy improvisational instrumentals there is no doubt in my mind that you can lump them in that category.

Yeah, I might get some shit for that comment, but you know what I'm talking about if you've ever experienced a Yo La Tengo show. They are not a typical "jam band," but they do flirt with crossing that line during their live performances. Also, if you've ever listened to the ten-plus-minute opening number of I'm Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind," you have no argument against my case.

The set ended with an uber-long version of the Beach Boys' "Little Honda," which was barely recognizable to even the most avid surf-pop fan. A short encore break brought the band back to perform a mellow request written out in a note by someone in the front row.

The energy was revived by a Condo Fucks (Yo La Tengo's cover-band alias) song dedicated to Houston's own Allen Oldies Band, with whom they guested several years back at Warehouse Live on a host of old Brit-rock tunes. The highlight of the night, though, came in the form of a tribute to Texas, with a performance of ZZ Top's "Gimme All Your Lovin'" that could've passed for the original if you were blindfolded and had a few drinks in you.

They closed with a quiet number that was briefly interrupted by Kaplan's inability to keep a straight face after someone in the crowd shouted, "Shut it, assholes." After the brief tune, Hubley and McNew walked off the stage with beaming smiles as Kaplan treated the crowd to one last quip: "all right motherfuckers, thank you very much." It was the perfect sendoff for the by-then astonished and overwhelmingly appreciative crowd.

Personal Bias: After seeing them at Warehouse Live back in 2007, they completely sold me. I was pretty late to the game, but I'm now a pretty big fanboy. I even stood in line to meet Ira after the show and get my record signed -- something I tend to shy away from.

The Crowd: I feel like a huge percentage of this crowd was lined up with me at 5am at Cactus on Record Store Day a few weeks ago.

Overheard In the Crowd: "OMG I'm on a bunch of ecstasy" I don't think said person was actually on drugs, yet relaying a past story possibly having to do with Yo La Tengo and MDMA.

Random Notebook Dump: Someone next to me is texting someone that they have dubbed "Nicki Minaj" on their iPhone. That, or it actually is Nicki Minaj, and this seemingly common white guy is having a conversation with her over text. Doubtful. If he just nicknamed her Nicki Minaj, I don't ever want to meet this girl. I really need to stop looking at people's phones.

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