Yo La Tengo brings live music back to Holyoke

The long-awaited return of safe live music presented by the mystical indie rock band

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Anna Zheng / Daily Collegian

By Anna Zhang, Collegian Contributor

For most people, New Jersey-based indie rock band Yo La Tengo’s Friday show at Gateway City Arts was their first concert since the start of the global pandemic. Often compared to the Velvet Underground, Yo La Tengo is known for their wide range of sounds and independence from any mainstream following. The band now consists of lead vocalist and guitarist Ira Kaplan, drummer and vocalist Georgia Hubley and bassist James McNew.

To best understand their sound, one must fully immerse themselves in the indie rock scene of the 1980s. Arguably the best era for the genre, the 1980s gave us a magnificent amount of rock bands. Being one of the few that are still active and touring, Yo La Tengo’s repertoire is comparable with Amherst native band, Dinosaur Jr. Not only do the two bands share similar sounds revolving around noise guitar, the two alternative rock bands were also both formed in 1984. Combined with various instruments from drums to bass, from shaker to synthesizer, the band walks the perfect balance between classic noise rock sounds and atmospheric dream pop melodies.

For over a year, the live music scene has been dormant due to public health concerns. Not only did Gateway City Arts, the location of the performance, require masks throughout the show, but they also required proof of complete vaccination against COVID-19. To combat the recent developments and spread of new variants of the virus, the venue rejected previously accepted negative results of COVID-19.

After the first few songs, lead vocalist and guitarist Ira Kaplan expressed his gratitude to the audience for complying with the safety protocols. To lighten the mood, Kaplan shared an anecdote about their previous show in New York. “A lady had traveled all the way from Texas to upstate New York, apparently for Italian food,” he said. “And when the waitress asked for her vaccination card, she was so upset that she threw punches at the poor waitress.”

Before the lights dimmed, fans of all ages and backgrounds gathered throughout the venue eagerly awaited the band’s performance. Kaplan walked onto the stage followed by drummer and vocalist Georgia Hubley and bassist and vocalist James McNew. All members dressed in modestly indie clothes; Together the band looked like regulars at a local farmers market, though Yo La Tengo did not let their modest outfits determine their spirit.

The band was silent as they got into position, creating a quaint, mystical atmosphere around them. Without addressing the crowd, the band started with Kaplan on the guitar and McNew on the synthesizer. The blue lights cast a calming presence on stage to match the ambient sounds of the first song, “You Are Here,” from the band’s 2018 album, “There’s a Riot Going On.” Transitioning from the ambient start, Hubley joined in with her distinct drum tempo to signal to the crowd that Yo La Tengo was there and performing.

The show was separated into two sets with a break in the middle. Since Yo La Tengo did not have any supporting artists on this tour, they structured the first set to be shorter, similar to how an opening artist would. Both sets consisted of songs from the wide range of albums the band has released throughout the decades. Their 2018 album, “There’s a Riot Going On,” had the highest percentage of songs played in both sets, which isn’t surprising considering it is the band’s latest release.

During the first set, before playing their song “Black Flowers,” Kaplan stopped to comment on the title of the album that the song is from. Yo La Tengo’s 2016 album, “I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass,” received audible reactions from the crowd, as the band shared a chuckle. At the end of the first set, the band chose to play “Here You Are,” which was a nice way to circle back to their first song, “You Are Here,” from the same album.

Throughout the night, all three members of the band rotated positions and shared the microphone for vocals. Hubley went from the drums to the synth and even the guitar for some songs. McNew demonstrated his musical talents through rich rhythmic bass and playful synth duties. To no one’s surprise, his voice was deep and autumnal just like his amber colored wooden bass.

Kaplan, as usual, was not afraid to show off his eclectic guitar skills while switching between three different guitars. Toward the end of the night, Kaplan let himself loose on the guitar and played it every way imaginable. First, he flipped the guitar behind his back and played fiercely. Not satisfied with just that, Kaplan moved even closer to the huge amps and started swinging his Fender Stratocaster near it. The noise guitar sounds from the amplifier elevated the energy of the night to an all time high when combined with Hubley’s powerful drums and McNew’s rhythmic bass.

To end the night on a high note, the band chose to perform their cover of “Till The End Of The Day” by iconic rock band, The Kinks. Even the sternest-looking audience members couldn’t help but join in with the college kids and swing their bodies around to the beats. Kaplan joked about choosing this specific song for the encore, “Five years ago I’d say we’d got this song pretty well, we’ll see how it is.”

After seeing the audience jump and shout the lyrics to the rock classic, Kaplan commented, “Seems like we’ve still got it down pretty well.”

For the final moments of the show, Hubley performed an “almost solo, almost acoustic” version of “My Little Corner Of the World.” If nostalgia had a physical form, it would look exactly like Hubley wearing a plain t-shirt and jeans singing with her most genuine and emotional voice. At the end of the song, the band brought their manager onto the stage, who performed an impressive whistle solo of the song despite some minor troubles with the mask he was wearing.

The magical bond Yo La Tengo shared with the audience on Friday night left everyone rejoicing as the show came to an end and warm yellow lights relit the venue.

 

Anna Zhang can be reached at [email protected]