A large part of the Hoboken, New Jersey trio Yo La Tengo’s appeal comes from the deep connection they have forged with their audience. When they shuffle onto the Henry Fonda Theater’s stage and plug in, showing an almost total lack of rock star ego, it’s not hard to imagine they’ve set up in someone’s living room. Playing a set drawn from their new, low-key album “Summer Sun” (Matador), it felt as if they were asked by their host to keep it down and not bother the neighbors.
Songs such as “Little Eyes” and “Nothing but You and Me” are musical watercolors; washes of sound bleed into one another, their edges indistinct. (If hipsters did brunch, this is the kind of music they’d have in the CD changer.) Delicately gorgeous, the songs breathe, but their intimacy (the vocals are mere whispers) makes them problematic concert fare, even in the small-scaled Fonda. You want to linger over them, savor the details.
About an hour into the show, around the time they played the jazzy squall of “Georgia vs. Yo La Tengo,” the band kicked into high gear. (Someone must have reminded them they were playing a concert originally intended for the noise-loving All Tomorrow’s Parties.) Although the change was immediate, like someone flicking a switch, it wasn’t jarring. It just felt as if the band was occupying a bigger space. Still human-scaled, the music became hypnotic, stretched out by 10-minute codas of improvisation and feedback. No matter what mode they played, Yo La Tengo radiated a sweet-tempered decency.
That could not be said about openers Le Tigre. With drum machines and distorted guitars, their music has a bouncy amateurism, but the lyrics are joyless, doctrinaire screeds. They’re humorlessly PC, but they do have taste. Namechecking artists such as X-Ray Specs, Patti Smith, Yoko Ono, the Slits and Aretha Franklin, they inadvertently prove the gulf between appreciating great art and making it.