I finally get Yo La Tengo. For years I’ve tried to listen to their music, but it could never keep my interest, not immediately grabbing my brain and hard to pin down into any one sound. I’ve always liked that they had a song called “Oklahoma, USA,” and their mellow And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out album played often in the gallery where I worked. Yet I could never really wrap my mind around why people could obsess over them.
Having now seen them live, I’m converted. Yo La Tengo gave a free show this Monday at the Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, kicking off the CMJ music festival. I had to work late, so I got there after the openers had started and waited outside for about an hour. I finally made it inside and miraculously found my friend in the dense crowd as the reverb poured out from the stage. The band has been around for 25 years, which is about how long I’ve been around, so they have a huge catalogue of music to play from. Some of it I vaguely recognized, others were new discoveries. I was amazed at the perfection with which they did both catchy indie pop and more noise-based, experimentations with melody and distortion.
If you are wondering about the name of the venue, the Brooklyn Bowl does indeed have bowling alleys alongside the stage, and the lead singer even stopped during one of their songs to run over and bowl. While their set had many stunning moments, I think I loved the earnest and soaring “More Stars Than There Are in Heaven” the most, where lead singer Ira Kaplan repeats over swirling sound “we walk hand in hand.” A line that could easily trite, but with their beautiful music was just incredibly moving.