‘An Evening With…’ style shows rely on two things: the willingness of the performer and the enthusiasm of the audience. Luckily, both were on hand for indie-rock icons Yo La Tengo’s show at Komedia. Titled ‘The Freewheeling’ Yo La Tengo, it was an acoustic show mixed with a Q&A, in what was essentially a love-in between the New Jersey band and their devoted fanbase. Devoid of awkward silences, and brimming with intense belly-laughs, it was about as entertaining as a two hour show can be.
After an opening of Electr-O-Pura’s ‘Tom Courtenay’ and There’s a Riot Goin’ On cut ‘For You Too’, the stage was set for a night of heavy improvisation. From questions about their name, and thinly veiled questions such as “Do you believe you can have it all?”, the night soon settled into a comfortable, warming groove with a laid-back atmosphere. It wasn’t until the subject of Warner Bros cult classic show Gilmore Girls, which they appeared on, and subsequently their musical cameo on Hal Hartley’s 1994 Amateur, where the evening started to weave together superbly, however.
Having appeared on Gilmore Girls with the likes of Sonic Youth and Sparks (who James McNew stated they were mesmerised by) they spoke fondly of the show, and then played the song they played on the show ‘The Story of Yo La Tengo’, which was a mesmerising rendition. Likewise ‘Shaker’, from Amateur, exhibited the band’s ability to soundtrack the off-kilter side of the American indie world.
A cover of Black Flag’s ‘Nervous Breakdown’, which Ira Kaplan confessed he once played on the radio because he didn’t realise that James McNew cleaned up the lyrics for their cover version, followed showcasing a heavier side to the band. To play these songs almost entirely improvised is impressive, and it’s testament to the band’s musicianship that they can pull it off so expertly.
Essentially, and primarily though, this didn’t feel like a generic question and answer session, both I and the crowd felt like they were part of the conversation and, importantly, learning something new about a band who have been around for over three decades.
“Have you ever been starstruck meeting another musician?” Was beautifully answered by McNew when he detailed how he was stopped in his tracks while on stage as he realised Johnny and June Cash were watching them stage side. Subsequently, a lovely cover of Cash’s ‘I Still Miss Someone’ followed, which did a good job in encapsulating what these nights are all about: fantastic music, and great musical stories beautifully woven together for a cracking night of entertainment.
Additionally, throughout the night we heard stories of Georgia Hubley meeting John Lennon, Kaplan buying The Rolling Stones’ ‘Ruby Tuesday’ as his first record (which would’ve been cool if he had bought it for ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’), and their favourite British comedy shows.
It was a wonderful evening of exciting musical anecdotes, brilliant covers, and excellent renditions of Yo La Tengo classics. ‘The Freewheeling’ Yo La Tengo can only go down as a bonafide success, and an incredibly unique Brighton experience. Or, as a brand-new fan suggested, it was “hypnotising”.