These are tough times to be a rock band. The slow-motion collapse of the music industry, falling record sales, a soft concert ticket market and a fickle, easily distracted audience make it hard to sustain a career. But the Hoboken, N.J. trio Yo La Tengo have managed to stick around for 25 years. Their immensely enjoyable perf at the Avalon on Thursday night showed why the band has endured.
Less a band than a cottage industry, husband and wife team Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley (along with James McNew, who has rounded out the trio since 1992) have forged an unusually intimate relationship with their aud.
The show begins when the trio amble up to the stage, plug in and start playing. The songs tend toward the quotidian and every day: couples arguing, car trips, the impact of seeing a star in an old movie. The compact, 90-minute set (augmented by two short encores) covers a wide range of music, from the Motown-styled duet “If It’s True,” the syncopated pop of “Periodically Double or Triple” and the mind-bending, 16-minute sprawl of “And The Glitter Is Gone,” all from their fine new Matador album, “Popular Songs.” There are also a pair of covers, chosen to fit the venue–the Beach Boys “Little Honda” (which Kaplan notes was recorded across the street at the Capitol Tower) and “Let’s Get Rid of New York,” an obscure punk single by the Randoms, played in memory of famed L.A. club promoter Brendan Mullen, who died Oct. 12.
No matter what they play–from Kaplan’s noisy, physical feedback-laden guitar solos to the gentle, acoustic version of “Tom Courtenay,” the band’s love of music shines through. Even a cover of Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby,” a song that could be easily played for cheap laughs, is played straight, chosen because they like the song. Yo La Tengo is what a Jewish grandmother would call “hamish.”