REVIEW: Yo La Tengo at Turner Hall

Photo Credit: Daniel Ojeda

Seminal indie rock band Yo La Tengo made their first Milwaukee appearance in ten years at Turner Hall Saturday night, playing a sold-out show. The band is currently on the road for their “This Stupid World” tour, their seventeenth studio album, which released in February.

Yo La Tengo consists of Ira Kaplan (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Georgia Hubley (percussion, vocals, keyboards), and James McNew (bass, vocals). Kaplan and Hubley formed the band in 1984 in Hoboken, New Jersey through shared love for music and baseball. The band’s name is a reference to a historical New York Mets moment. Over the course of the band’s nearly 40-year run their sound has encompassed noise and art pop, shoegaze, folk rock and more. They are known to incorporate a myriad of covers into both their live sets and recorded material.

“Ride the Tiger”, Yo La Tengo’s debut album, was released in 1986. After a few members joined and left with the band’s next few records (“New Wave Hot Dogs”, “President Yo La Tengo”, “Fakebook”), McNew permanently joined Yo La Tengo for their fifth album “May I Sing With Me” in 1992. Their next record “Painful” would be their first with who would become their longtime producer, Roger Moutenot. 1995 saw the release of “Electr-O-Pura”, and then “I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One” in 1997 became a critical breakthrough for Yo La Tengo, lauded for its blend of all the band’s stylistic proclivities cohesively. In 1998 they collaborated with Jad Fair on the album “Strange but True”, featuring songs titled after absurd newspaper headlines. “And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out” was released in 2000 and saw similar success to “I Can Hear the Heart”, taking Yo La Tengo’s sound into a more atmospheric direction. “Summer Sun” in 2003 continued the band’s lean into calm, dreamy rock.

After scoring several films, their humorously titled next record “I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass” expanded the band’s sound with more strings and horns; they would also release two covers records around this time (“Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics” and “Fuckbook” – the latter released under the alias Condo Fucks). Yo La Tengo’s 12th record “Popular Songs” came out in 2009 and 13th record “Fade” came in 2013 (their last effort with Moutenot), and then “Stuff Like That There” in 2015 featured rerecorded versions of old songs plus more covers. The band’s most recent three albums – “There’s A Riot Going On”, “We Have Amnesia Sometimes” and “This Stupid World” – came out in 2018, 2020 and 2023 respectively; “We Have Amnesia Sometimes” is notable for being embodied entirely by improvised ambient compositions. In additon to their LPs, Yo La Tengo have released sixteen EPs and two compilations as well.

Photo Credit: Daniel Ojeda

Saturday’s show saw Yo La Tengo playing two sets plus an encore and with no opener. All three members took turns taking the lead on vocals and occasionally switching instruments. Their first set was more mellow and quiet, featuring many songs from “This Stupid World” plus a couple from their back catalog (“Satellite”, “Black Flowers”, “The Ballad of Red Buckets”) and a Urinals cover (“Ack Ack Ack Ack”). After intermission the band returned with louder and more energetic songs, starting with the long, dissonant “And the Glitter is Gone” and subsequently playing “Sugarcube”, “Ohm”, “Mr. Tough”, “Decora” and “Sudden Organ.” With both sets balancing the duality of Yo La Tengo’s versatile palette, their second one concluded with the charmingly tender ballad “Our Way to Fall.” For their encore, the band played a Velvet Underground cover (“I Heard Her Call My Name”), “Moby Octopad” from “I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One” and their cover of Flamin’ Groovies lullaby “You Tore Me Down.”

Before Yo La Tengo’s encore, I leaned over to a friend to say, “dude, I would really want Ira to sing me a bedtime lullaby.” A few minutes later, he did. Cheers to a wonderful night!

Share this post:

Leave a Reply