Live: Home Is Where Yo La Tengo's Fans Are

Fans welcome Hoboken, N.J. band to Manhattan for a weekend of memorable performances.

NEW YORK -- When Yo La Tengo took the stage to a packed house on a rainy

Saturday night in Greenwich Village, lead singer Ira Kaplan remarked, "This

place is beginning to feel like home."

Actually, home for Yo La Tengo is not far from this place.

Outside the Westbeth Theater, through the mist above the Hudson River, one could

see the old warehouses of Hoboken, N.J., where the band got their start in the

burgeoning '80s Hoboken indie-rock scene and where they continue to

live.

But as word spreads of this band of alternative misfits, so apparently have the

borders of its hometown.

The Westbeth itself, a subsidized arts complex in the West Village, replete with

cheap artist lofts, a gallery and cafe, was the perfect place for Yo La Tengo to

showcase their sophisticated but emotive rock 'n' roll prowess last weekend.

More like a jazz band than a rock outfit, the influential indie-rockers held

down the fort at the Westbeth for a four-show Halloween weekend stand.

At the Saturday night show and the Sunday all-ages matinee, Kaplan, along with

drummer and wife Georgia Hubley and bassist James McNew, showed how he was able

to move from ecstatic feedback workouts, to exquisitely crafted pop songs, to

hypnotic drone-rock instrumentals with ease. The faithful 400-odd fans who

packed the Westbeth's small black box of a theater responded accordingly.

They listened quietly during the softer numbers, and stage dived during the

feedback mayhem.

Saturday night began with a small crowd--including an attentive Kaplan

and Hubley--gathering around former-Holy Modal Rounder Peter Stampfel as

the gray-haired, bespectacled folksinger sang his quirky tunes such as

"Mother, Your Grandson's a Monster." As the opening act, Stampfel missed chords,

forgot words and almost fell off his stool at one point, but, like some

folksier version of Jonathan Richman, he won over the audience with

his endearing personality.

Afterwards, Stampfel, with former db's-drummer Will Rigby and his band The

Unmentionables, plus former Yo La Tengo guitarist Dave Schramm, played a set of

rockabilly-meets-folk-rock. An ongoing joke developed in which audience members

kept asking what the name of the band was, and Rigby, laughing, responded, "The

Unmentionables."

Yo La Tengo, after setting up their own equipment (always the sign of a

true indie-rock band), took the stage and broke into their version of

the Beach Boy's "Little Honda."

For the rest of their two-hour set, they moved between the rowdier songs from

their new album, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One (Matador), such as

"Sugarcube" and "Deeper Into Movies" and more mellow numbers, such as the

instrumental "Green Arrow." Like some artsy Eddie Van Halen, Ira Kaplan

extracted dissonant feedback cries from his guitar on the loud songs, lunging

at Hubley and McNew with each guitar wail.

Hubley held down the beat like a modern-day Maureen Tucker, with Will Rigby

joining in at times on a spare snare drum. Meanwhile, McNew plucked melodic bass

lines. The band graciously brought out Dave Schramm to play a set of older and

quieter material. Then, on "Autumn Sweater," Kaplan moved over to the "new wave"

organ and Hubley played a funky beat after a sampled '50s aerobics instructor

voice announced, "Let's see what you can do girl!"

She can do a lot, as can Kaplan and McNew; all of whom drew from almost every

dimension of rock music to come up with their distinctive Yo La Tengo sound.

Moving, without so much as a slip, from an Adam Ant cover in their encore to

Jonathan Richman's "Rockin' and the Government Center" proved this point

perfectly.

As befits a Sunday afternoon, particularly a rainy one, Yo La Tengo's

matinee performance was a more relaxed affair, but nonetheless meaningful.

Moody baritone Stephen Merrit and his Magnetic Fields opened with their somber,

graceful ballads. Kaplan, Hubley and McNew also offered a mellow set, but were

not afraid to turn up the volume on some dark, instrumental numbers.

With Hubley slamming on her tom-toms with timpani mallets, and Kaplan slapping

his guitar and almost tossing it over his body, it was clear that Yo La Tengo

had recovered from any hangovers after the previous night. McNew sang an

unforgettable version of his new song, "Stockholm Syndrome," and the band shook

maracas and played the clave on Hubley and Kaplan's beautiful duet, "Center of

Gravity."

Finishing with a cover of Blondie's "Dreaming," Yo La Tengo left the stage to

the all-ages crowd's cheers. After the house lights came up in the small room,

they returned to unplug their equipment, talk with fans, laugh and enjoy the

artsy little corner of the world that, for one weekend at least, they had made

their homes. [Thur., Nov. 6, 1997, 9 a.m. PST]