(4 / 5)
Let me start by saying that I’ve known Yo La Tengo not very long ago despite their being a band with so much history.
I first learned of the New Jersey trio after seeing the covertly translated English title of a Thai indie film released back in summer, which is By the Time It Gets Dark and obviously a reference to a Yo La Tengo song. I took an intensive course on the band and have become pious, in my own novice ways, in their temple of sound ever since.
Yo La Tengo performed in Bangkok for the first time on December 4 at Voice Space. I got to take my study outside and what a field day that was. It was a pure joy to see the band who is so new to you. Every song was a jolt. Every stage antic, a surprise.
The show opened with Thai indie music pioneers, Moderndog. It’s amazing they took on the support stint, to be honest, but since that’s the way it set out to be, one couldn’t think of a local act more well-suited. Much like the night’s headlining act, the Pod Thanachai-fronted band has long been favoured by critics and generations of artsy listeners.
I pondered whether Moderndog were just rehearsing for their big anniversary concert next March. But then these guys don’t take anything as a rehearsal. One of the things that put a smile on many faces was all the B-side tracks. To see them put “Happiness Is…” next to “Isaan Classic” on the setlist was a wish-fulfilling experience.
Yo La Tengo took the stage and kicked off the first half of their singular quiet/loud-formatted show with “Can’t Forget”. With what a few in the crowd would care to call dressing down, the band made up for it with the richness of their music – and then some.
“I intend not to play exactly like what I’ve recorded,” Ira Kaplan told the crowd, dissolving the awkwardness, and making a statement to boot, following the sound crew’s playing a studio version of their song by accident mid-performance.
The result was unreal, both in the sense that the hall was transported to a melodic dreamland and that they managed to sound new with live renditions of their own covers of “Automatic Doom” and “Friday I’m in love”. This made me I realise why they’re so loved for reworking the classics. Ask anyone unfamiliar with The Cure and they might just say the band doesn’t quite measure up to Yo La Tengo’s composed, bittersweet original.
After a break, I expected them to gradually raise the mood as we go through the second half, but it’s clear no further ado was needed. The loud set began a loud set. And once you’re inside the temple, there’s no going back, not even for a refill for my fellow groundling who spilled his beer out of a scare.
It was shoegaze, noise rock, psychedelic and noir rock blocks upon blocks. The walls were constructed with the band’s versatility and deliberate impulse. The three musicians shifted places and took turns being on each instrument. At this point Kaplan’s words from earlier truly reverberated with the music. They do not play like what they’ve recorded. Of course not.
We journeyed through a powerful, seemingly ad lib performance with fan favourites like “Little Eyes” and “Autumn Sweater”. Then during “Stockholm Syndrome”, the band extended the song with a fervour-doused ten-minute live improvisation, arguably one of the night’s highlights and, dare I say, a rarity in modern-day gigs.
The set came to a close with the return to warm vocals of Georgia Hubley in “My Little Corner of the World”. “Come along with me/ To my little corner of the world/ And dream a little dream/ In my little corner of the world,” goes the song. For all their heavy-hitting and guitar-shredding, playing a dream is what Yo La Tengo will always do best. Gently, modestly, beautifully.