Indie music legends Yo La Tengo return to Vancouver, on November 12 at The Vogue Theatre, to perform live in The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller – a “live documentary” by Academy Award-Nominated director Sam Green, which launches the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival‘s 11th annual season.
While Yo La Tengo’s hardcore fans are already salivating for the band’s only Canadian date (for their Extra Painful 30th anniversary year), the some of us may be left wondering…
What is Yo La Tengo?
Here are 10 videos that attempt to answer this elusive question that is still contentious even amongst fans and music critics. Their compositions can go in many directions – from sweet acoustic odes, to frenetic fuzz guitar freakouts, to freeform jazz inspired experimentalism. Shapeshifting from record to record, Yo La Tengo are perfectly comfortable rocking out in a bar as they are composing music for aquariums, or even covering the classics like The Beach Boys.
In fact one could argue that Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew’s refusal to adhere to popular music conventions is their only true hallmark. Thus, when asked to score the musical component to Sam Green’s “live documentary” on neo-futurist architect R. Buckminister Fuller (whose impact on Vancouver can be still be seen in local wonders like Science World), they jumped at the chance to make a new synergy and perform the soundtrack live each night – constantly jamming, riffing and playing with sounds inspired by Fuller’s own quest to explore the undefined – after all, he was just “a passenger on the spaceship Earth.”
1. The Summer
Here’s an early gem from YLT’s Fakebook record on seminal US indie label BarNone. Fresh faced, collegiate, and sporting a deadpan East Coast cool (think Lou Reed and Jonathan Richman), this song is one of the first I can remember hearing on CBC’s late night Brave New Waves program. It was indie-rock innocence.
For this great song off their 1997 release I can hear the heart beating as one a bunch of whack-job corporate lawyers that run the music biz send Ira, Georgia and James to rock school to try and learn the various bullshit clichés that have led to the standardization of contemporary music practice. Learning how to smash your guitar… Classic.
Doing complex algebra while tripping through a technicolour landscape in an attempt to discover what makes up Yo La Tengo – something most rock critics can relate too. “Ohm” is a quixotic noisy guitar jam carried by the hypnotic locked rhythm section. Georgia is really in the pocket here.
4. Today is the Day
Based in Hoboken YLT are miles away from the blissed out California beach bum lifestyle. Bonfires, beach shacks, glittering sunsets and hanging ten on the rolling waves – all signifiers of eternal detachment, escape, utopian holidays and carefree living. “Today is the Day” is a simple and beautiful song that takes your pains away. Sweet found footage too.
5. Here to Fall
Known to distill a number of divergent influences, here YLT blend the freakout forms of german prog-rock à la Can with the funkier moments of Miles Davis, all while jamming on the top of NYC building! Seriously, this band is capable of so much!
6. The Point of It
Captured live in the infamous studios of Seattle’s finest indie radio station KEXP, Ira shows off his tender side with this effortlessly sublime song that instantly projects a forlorn melancholic vibe. Its sort of makes you try to remember the last Hal Hartley film you saw.
7. From A Motel 6
Speaking of Hal Hartley… here is a basic video he made for YLT in 1993. The song comes from a personal fave in their catalog Painful. This record established Ira as real freakout guitarist as his now signature strat into two fender twin amp sound.
8. I’ll be Around
Casting Mac from Superchunk as the protagonist in this sweet acoustic ode was a nice tribute. The two bands have probably logged so many hours touring in a beat-up van across America – living the dream.
9. Yo La Tengo Covers the Supremes
Before nailing their cover of the Supremes, Ira talks a bit about his admiration for the girl groups sound. In another life before YLT he worked as a music writer, as well as soundman at Maxwell’s (a now defunct New Jersey club) which gives one insight into how the band manages to weave together so many strands of music culture into such a unique and individual sound.
10. All Your Secrets
This video makes the cut just for its gearporn! Any lover of old school vintage synthesizers will appreciate the delicate atmospheric mood music YLT make on these nice old moog keyboards.
Now, come November 12 you can see Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew for yourself, accompanying The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, venturing on a sonic and visionary quest that kicks off celebrations for the 2015 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, taking place January 20 to February 8, 2015 in venues across Vancouver.