Saturday, April 21 , 2018, 12:28 pm | Fair 67º

 
 
 
 

Jeff Moehlis: Yo La Tengo Makes Santa Barbara Debut

The veteran indie rock band plays Popular Songs to a full house at Velvet Jones

At their Santa Barbara debut at the packed Velvet Jones music club Monday night, Yo La Tengo guitarist Ira Kaplan joked that, “We vowed never to come to Santa Barbara until [local resident] Jeff Bridges won the Oscar.” Then, pointing out that he hadn’t even seen Crazy Heart — the movie for which Bridges received the Academy Award for Best Actor — Kaplan dedicated the next song, “The Weakest Part,” to Bridges in honor of his performance in 1972’s Fat City.

After that song, drummer Georgia Hubley requested to the sound man, “Could you bring the piano down just a touch?” Kaplan, who is married to Hubley and who was playing the piano, cheekily responded, “Could you bring the piano up just a little bit?”

Yo La Tengo was clearly having fun during their visit to Santa Barbara, which has been a long time coming. They formed in 1984 in Hoboken, N.J., and have been recording and touring extensively ever since.

I first picked up one of their albums years ago after reading that they were a band that drew inspiration from The Velvet Underground, one of my favorites. Certainly many of their songs have a resemblance to those of Velvet. Plus, Kaplan’s singing often has a Lou Reed quality to it, while Hubley’s singing and drumming remind one of Velvet drummer Moe Tucker. In fact, the band was even cast as The Velvet Underground in the 1996 movie I Shot Andy Warhol.

But the comparison to The Velvet Underground is a bit unfair, as Yo La Tengo has its own sound and vision. Well, maybe we should say that they have their own sounds, as evidenced by the diverse collection of songs played at the concert.

Show opener “Madeline,” sung by Hubley, had a pleasant, mellow, retro electric groove. This was followed by “More Stars Than There Are In Heaven” with pulsing bass courtesy of James McNew, a song that gradually built in intensity as Kaplan thrashed at and randomly detuned his guitar until the sound degraded — and I mean that in a good way — into Metal Machine Music noise.

Then there was “Stockholm Syndrome,” which like many other songs had a laid-back groove that was interrupted by an explosive, heavily distorted, blissfully feedback-laden guitar solo courtesy of Kaplan.

The songs featuring Kaplan on keyboards were all over the map, including the poppy “If It’s True,” the heavily effected, synth-driven “Here To Fall,” the early-Stereolab-channeling “Sudden Organ” and the synth-funk of “Periodically Double or Triple,” which had an outrageously long dramatic pause after the first verse.

Other sonic extremes included the mellow acoustic guitar songs “Double Dare” and “When It’s Dark,” and the 15-minute cathartic instrumental romp “I Heard You Looking,” which closed the main set.

For their two encores, Yo La Tengo covered an eclectic set of songs: a rocking take on Adam Ant’s “Antmusic,” a sloppy but fun version of R&B obscurity “Emulsified” by Rex Garvin & The Mighty Cravers, Velvet Underground alum John Cale’s pretty “Hanky Panky Nohow” and, by request, Holy Modal Rounder Peter Stampfel’s folky “Griselda.”

Many of the songs in the main set were drawn from Yo La Tengo’s latest and ironically named 2009 album Popular Songs. While the band has never had popularity at the mass-market level, the songs were definitely popular among the true believers at Velvet Jones. Let’s hope Yo La Tengo makes it back to town sooner than later.

Setlist

Madeline
More Stars Than There Are In Heaven
Avalon or Someone Very Similar
Flying Lesson (Hot Chicken #1)
Stockholm Syndrome
The Weakest Part
If It’s True
Here To Fall
I’m On My Way
Double Dare
When It’s Dark
Sugarcube
Periodically Double or Triple
Sudden Organ
Nothing to Hide
I Heard You Looking

Encore 1

Antmusic
Emulsified
Hanky Panky Nohow

Encore 2

Griselda

Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

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