Appealing to a niche audience can be tricky business, but Yo La Tengo has done it for years.

With nuanced melodies and a streamlined sound supported by the familiarity between band members, the gentle indie group certainly did “have it” at their Friday show at the Wilbur, the beautiful old theater certainly adding to the ambiance of the acoustic-only show.

Eccentric paintings – some representing the bands’ album covers  – decorated the stage, creating a humble, impromptu backdrop that provided contrast with the admittedly un-animated performance. Lights in shades of pink and orange added a warmth as well, while the band passionately played through a two-part set complete with an upbeat take on a Cure song and personalized covers of Devo and The Ronettes.

Yo La Tengo looks like a very unassuming band. Formerly a trio, and adding Dave Schramm on guitar, their sound is tight and deliberate. But they don’t have the look of some of the cherished indie darlings on the scene today, donning simple jeans and a T-shirt. Each member stood the entire time, even drummer Georgia Hubley, which added an immediacy to their performance. Each song saw the members leaning deep into their instruments, closing their eyes tightly as the magic flowed from head to fingertip.

An eclectic set full of new songs and old favorites, Yo La Tengo’s set was diverse. Though the band has an overall tender, soft sound, emanating from acoustic guitar, standup bass, and brush-hit drums, some heaviness was incorporated on certain tracks like “Automatic Doom.” The increase in tempo as well as dynamics came across at first as unsettling, but as the song continued, the audience warmed to it.

As strange as it may sound, the band really shined on the covers they played. While their original songs are heartfelt and nostalgic – they had the crowd literally shouting for “Autumn Sweater” after emerging for their encore – the personal flair they added to these songs was explosive.

“It’s Friday I’m in love,” Hubley’s voice cracked as it careened over the edge of its range. The group’s cover of the famous tune by the Cure, “Friday I’m In Love,” transformed the campy, melancholic 90’s hit into an upbeat love song. It’s the happiest that any Cure song has ever sounded.

But the showstopper was when, during the encore, standup bass player James McNew grabbed the microphone for a rendition of the Devo tune “Bottled Up.” Taking a song by an electro-punk band could translate poorly for a mostly acoustic group, but McNew made the song his own, with ardent, full-bodied vocals and deliberately plucked bass lines on.

From unique covers to impassioned performances of their hits, Yo La Tengo added some warmth to a cold October night. The acoustic-only aspect of the show added a touch of intimacy to an already invested crowd. An evening well spent, like one with old friends– which to their loyal fans, Yo La Tengo have become. 

An Acoustic Evening: Yo La Tengo
Pros
  • Refreshing cover song choices
  • Intimate atmosphere
  • Showed depth of band's range
Cons
  • Assumed too much familiarity
  • Slow paced set
8.5They Have It

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