Thursday, November 16, 2006

And then everything turned itself inside-out


"37 Record-Store Clerks Feared Dead In Yo La Tengo Concert Disaster" screamed a newspaper headline back in April 2002. As you might have guessed, the newspaper in question was The Onion, the publication which singlehandedly and repeatedly proves that, contrary to popular myth, Americans can and do have a firm grasp of irony, satire and other subtle forms of wit.

Anyway, it's funny because it's true. It's a safe bet that if fire raged through the Point tonight on the same sort of scale as it did at Brum's last remaining rock club Edwards No 8 at the weekend, Spillers would be a few men and women down. Indeed, the whole Cardiff indie scene would collapse, as a quick game of I-spy confirms: Gary of Twisted By Design near at hand, Gindrinker guitarist Graf just in front of me, Noel of Lesson No 1 and Neil of Los Campesinos! flitting around like ten-year-olds on the Red Bull...

But enough of the assembled throng - what of the bands?

Support comes from Bristolians Minotaur Shock, signed to the legendary 4AD label. A spot of post-gig research reveals that they really only consist of one person, David Edwards, and that the other two only appear live. Research also proves that I'm not mad in imagining he was a purveyor of glitchy Boards Of Canada electronica in the past. If that's a past Edwards is keen to leave behind, then on tonight's showing he's making a very convincing fist of it.

The songs seem to possess some kind of weird groove almost in spite of themselves, a rhythmic funk that approximates Talking Heads, albeit with the addition of flute, oboe and programming. Particularly entertaining are the two tracks on which Edwards is shown drumming along to on a projection screen (a la Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips a few years back), the on-screen figure pausing to drink a cup of tea when the drums cut out and the real-life on-stage incarnation finishes up. It's not easy to get your head around first time (and the crowd's response is pretty muted), though definitely worthy of further investigation.

Confession time. It may come as something of a surprise given my tastes that I've never quite got into Yo La Tengo. 2003's Today Is The Day EP is brilliant, but somehow I've never got round to following that purchase up with more. It's perhaps most surprising because of their similarities to my favourite band. Like Sonic Youth, not only is Hoboken, New Jersey the place the trio call home; they can also boast a long career marked by numerous peaks (they formed in 1984), and share an interest in incorporating experimentation with feedback, dissonance and drones into a relatively accessible indie rock sound.

There are also striking similarities with another American threesome beloved of critics and fans alike: Low. Like the Duluth trio, Yo La Tengo are founded upon a husband and wife duo on guitar and drums respectively - in this case Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley - though the contribution of the bassist, James McNew, shouldn't be underestimated.

McNew it is who is vital to the ten minutes of sheer bliss that make up the opening song, locking down the groove with an insistent bassline to allow Kaplan to venture off into the fantasy world of the unfettered lead guitarist. If that isn't enough to win the crowd over, then the nods to local heroes certainly are - Megan of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci appears to accompany them on the violin, and Kaplan tells us that the acoustic guitar he's using belongs to Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals and has been lent to them for the occasion because "it has a nicer pick guard" than their own.

You want song titles? 'Fraid I can't help you there, really, though they definitely play 'The Weaker Part' from their splendidly titled new LP I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, and I'm pretty certain 'I Heard You Looking' is in there somewhere too. There's a bit of a lull mid-set, I feel, when they overdose slightly on the avant-jazz and lightweight pop-rock stuff - though it has to be said they have a more catholic aesthetic than Sonic Youth, and that these songs do provide welcome textural variation. But the medley which brings the main set to an end is intense, thunderous and thrilling. Don't just take my word for it - how's about asking the hairy young man in the Eagles T-shirt moshing away at the front like his life depends on it?

They return for a low-key four song encore and, although (sadly) 'Today Is The Day' never puts in an appearance, at last there's a song I know and even own, 'Let's Save Tony Orlando's House' from 2000's And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out. Two of the others are covers: the first 'The Readymades' by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, whom they are delighted to have seen at St David's Hall the previous night; and the second (the last song of the night) an unnamed Welsh folk song performed with a sublime gentleness of touch.

One of those nights when everything suddenly becomes crystal clear, then. Not quite gig of the year - but certainly well up there.

(Turns out I wasn't the only member of the audience uninitiated in the Church of Yo La Tengo: check out this review from the MusicOMH site.

Oh, and the "Welsh folk song" was John Cale's 'Andalucia', according to Drowned In Sound gig reviewer Will Dean. I'll take your word for it, Will.)

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