Yo La Tengo brings the sounds of their new album There’s A Riot Goin’ On as well as a slew of their greatest hits to Dublin’s Olympia Theatre and make for the most compelling live performances I’ve ever seen. The stage is dark, full of instruments ranging from your standard guitar/ drums/bass to an upright bass and this weird organ/synthesizer amalgamation and decorated with 7-12″ vinyl records hanging from it; all the discs are painted in a way that’s reminiscent of the cover art for their Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo compilation.
Ira, Georgia and James walk on to the stage with a raucous applause and immediately jump into You Are Here from their latest record. The band manages to quickly create a luscious ambient soundscape that’s mainly helmed by Ira’s itinerary of guitar pedals and his use of an Ebro while Georgia and James are chiming away on their respective drum sets. I couldn’t help but watch with the biggest smile on my face, in absolute awe as to how fast they were able to set a distinctive tone for the first half of the set and how proficiently they were all playing – James and Georgia never missed a beat while Ira’s sprawling guitar ambiance was spacious and beautiful.
When the song was over, Georgia and James immediately moved away from their drums and moved on to synthesizer and bass. The band played Forever which featured a beautifully spacious bass-line from James and short “shoo wop, shoo wops” from all three members respectfully. The vocal mix was a little bit off and it made it quite hard to understand what the members were singing at times due to how much reverb there was, but I was able to look past it and continue enjoying the show. The band took me by surprise and played The Hour Grows Late from their 1995 masterpiece Electr-O-Pura which was completely unexpected but an incredibly welcome addition. The band were somehow able to transcend an already dreamy song into something that feels like the most beautiful dream you’ll ever have all due to the wonderful ambience they were able to create. The band surprised me again by playing the I Can Hear The Heart… deep cut One PM Again and managed to make it sound much different and complete with a seemingly improvised guitar solo from Ira that was nothing short of gorgeous.
After a brief intermission and another go at the recent material with Dream Dream Away, the band launched into the Sonic Youth song that never was, Flying Lesson. The gorgeous ambience of the first set was immediately thrown away with the disorienting noise in the space of minutes and had Ira completely battering his guitar that was reminiscent of whatever Glenn Branca was doing off record in the late 70s. At this point, my jaw was on the floor and by God they kept it going by immediately jumping into a perfect rendition of Stockholm Syndrome that featured another stupidly crazy guitar solo from Ira and James’ vocals that sounded no different than they were on record 21 years ago. The band continued their slew of classic tracks with a gorgeous rendition of Autumn Sweater before going into the faster version of Big Day Coming from 1993s Painful that had James on guitar and Ira switching to the synth/organ thing that evoked some of the harshest noise I’ve heard in a live performance. It was incredibly hypnotising and raucous – James played Ira at his own game with another stupidly noisy guitar solo that left me in awe as to what I was watching.
After Big Day Coming, the band moved on to Decora and to this day I’m still in awe as to how Georgia is able to manage singing and drumming at the same time but I find it hard to doubt due to how talented she is. The band went back to their respective instruments for the closer, I Heard You Looking, and brought another member to play the big noisy organ. The band were able to turn the already sprawling 7-minute instrumental into something more intuitive and at twice the length. One of the best moments of the set came from this track as Ira played his absolute noisiest harshest guitar solo of the night and immediately looped it and played the melody of the song while layering another guitar solo over it in an awe-inspiring fashion.
When Yo La Tengo returned for an encore, they went into covers of Action Time Vision by Alternative TV and Tried So Hard by Gene Clark. Both of them were fantastic renditions, but the serious cherry on top was when they closed the set with a stunning acoustic version of Tom Courtenay with Georgia on vocals that essentially left me speechless.
Since 1984, Yo La Tengo has been consistently releasing some of the most dreamy, beautiful, compelling, meditative and noisy music ever put to record. Seeing them perform for the second time was like a dream come true, especially in a venue as wonderful as The Olympia. Yo La Tengo is a shining example of what “the great American Rock band” truly is and I don’t think any other band that may share the same title are anywhere near as good as them – even though they are still depressingly underrated after all of this time.
Yo La Tengo played;
You Are Here, Forever, The Hour Grows Late, Ashes, She May / She Might, One PM Again, I’ll Be Around, I Feel Like Going Home, Here You Are
Dream Dream Away, Flying Lesson (Hot Chicken #1), Stockholm Syndrome, For You Too, Shades of Blue, Autumn Sweater, Big Day Coming (fast version), Nothing To Hide, Decora, I Heard You Looking
Action Time Vision, Tried So Hard, Tom Courtenay