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.


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
Periodically Double or Triple
Sudden Organ
Nothing to Hide
I Heard You Looking

Encore 1

Hanky Panky Nohow

Encore 2


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,

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Maestro, Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Debit

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >