Yo La Tengo – Reinventing the Wheel, London 12/06/11

Yo La Tengo playing the Royal Festival hall, as part of former Kink Ray Davies’ Meltdown festival, is really no surprise. Their orbit has grown quietly larger since 2008’s deliciously titled, obfuscatingly eclectic I‘m Not Afraid of You and Will Beat Your Ass, while continuing to release music that finds them in the form of their lives.

As part of the ‘Reinventing The Wheel’ tour, the band promised a method in their madness of two sets. The second part of their set was to play a ‘standard’ Yo La Tengo set (if such a thing could be done), and the first set would be decided at the spin of a wheel. The wheel in question, held such possibilities of the band performing a classic sit-com scenes, allegedly from Seinfeld – although singer/guitarist Ira Kaplan would make a far better Larry Sanders, songs beginning with ‘s’ and a bunch of covers that Yo La Tengo perform annually for New Jersey radio station WFMU as part of a charity music marathon.

The concept is not new to Yo La Tengo – in 2007 the band performed under the pseudonym of The Condo Fucks and released an album Fuckbook in the same year. During their secret gigs they would take requests from and also field questions from the audience.

And so the wheel was spun and the first set was a Condo Fucks garage thrash out – bearly a 4/4 count in could be measured before the next song came in and the bands left the talking to songs like the Small Faces What’cha Gonna do about it.

The second half saw YLT do what they best. Everything. This set open with Night Fall on Hoboken  which saw 12 minutes of Kaplan’s effects pedals and their feedback stalk Georgia Hubley’s sparse drums. Weakest Part and Black Flowers followed from I’m Not Afraid….. LP and further favourites like Cherry Chapstick And Something to Hide and Pass the Hatchet, I’m a Goodkind showing YLT in perfect-10 pop melody mode. With the exception of The Kinks God’s Children for the encore, the latter part of the set saw the trio return to more low-key numbers like Autumn Sweater and for the third and final encore, (of which a good many of the audience may well have missed) the beautifully melancholy Feel Like Going Home.

As to be expected by a music festival compared by Ray Davies, the audience didn’t look like a typical Yo La tengo audience but it’s likely that playing at a venue of this stature will win them more fans, particularly as they showed what a fantastic live band they are. They also showed that for three middle-aged folk, they’re capable of making a right (royal) racket.

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