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Yo La Tengo

 Vicar Street, 10th May '00

Tonight the Vicar Street crowd is actually quite an eclectic mix - a nice thing for a gig in Dublin. It's testament to Matador Records' mission to simply sign good bands as opposed to signing good pop bands or good rock bands. Our evening's main course is a band with lots of talent and diversity of musical styles.

Photo of Yo La TengoIt confuses me that Yo La Tengo are not as acclaimed in record sales as they are critically. The fact is that for over 10 years they have been consistently making remarkably excellent records. Normally basing themselves out of Hoboken, New Jersey they seem to have - temporarily anyway - settled in Nashville along with City Slang cohorts Lambchop.

The beauty of this band is they every time the hacks think they've got a handle on what the band are trying to do and are sharpening their forked tongues, Yo La Tengo bite back first with a brand new style.

In the past they have accrued a reputation as "noiseters". This Yo La Tengo however has produced the beautiful bedtime / wake-up album "And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-out" which has outgrown their previous form insofar as restraint and maturity. We expected - and received - the same kind of feedback noise live on stage but now we have feedback control. With over a decade of live performance under his belt vocalist and guitarist Ira Kaplan has managed to use feedback quite unlike many other guitarists. It adds an extra dimension to the sound of the band rather than some noise that drowns out the rest of the music. Like every intricate noise Yo La Tengo pull out of their bag it finds a suitable place to land itself in the song. At some points tonight it's hard to believe that there's only three people in the band (apart from when the roadie joins them onstage for one song).

As with any proper review it just wouldn't be fitting not to criticise. My fear for the band is that Kaplan has an air to him that is distinctly Lou Reed. Unfortunately this feeling dawns on me early in the show and grows until I can hear elements of The Velvet Underground in most songs. Thankfully, they manage to play their music well enough not to pay too much homage to the past.

The set twists and turns like a sidewinder snake on E. The band change instruments on several occasions, with each member of the band taking turns to sing lead vocals. The vocals are the most outstanding feature of the night, it's a craftsmanship of the highest quality that over the band's history just seems to have become second nature for them. It just would not be fair to forget to mention that the interaction with the audience tonight was extremely intimate. Almost like Kaplan was conversing away with us as if 'over a few pints'. Just when you think it's safe to come out the band claim "never to have performed on any of their records" and, in tribute to the alleged session musicians, start up a sequenced track "You can have it all". Kaplan and bassist James McNew line-up for a strikingly choreographed dance routine with backing vocals. Drummer - and Kaplan's wife - Georgia takes lead vocals and, overcome with enthusiasm, joins her band mates in their dance at the musical break. This is cabaret at its best.

The band are on great form. A consistently good show from a consistently good band. I go to sleep soundly knowing that there are some good musicians alive and well and brimming with ideas.

Colm Downes