Although Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo gives the audience fair warning, most are not prepared for the brain-shattering, pants-splintering, ear-demolishing two hours during which this legendary Hoboken indie band would teach us a whole new meaning of Hanukkah.
Before this aural earthquake, though, comes the surprise opening act, New Yorkâ€™s melancholy minstrels, Magnetic Fields. They inside-joke and sigh their way through old favorites, like the charmingly acerbic â€œYeah! Oh Yeah!â€ and have the small crowd laughing with â€œThe Nunâ€™s Litanyâ€ and â€œToo Drunk To Dream.â€ Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo comes up to sing â€œMovies In My Head,â€ a number that she recorded with Stephin Merrittâ€™s the 6ths. Other Merritt rarities included â€œCrowsâ€ and â€œWhat A Fucking Lovely Day!â€
When Yo La Tengo takes the stage, familiar-sounding feedback launches into â€œBig Day Coming,â€ shaking the tiny club to life as James McNew mashes at the keyboard like a wild animal at its prey.
A cover of the Velvet Undergroundâ€™s â€œGuess Iâ€™m Falling In Loveâ€ is followed by â€œStockholm Syndrome,â€ which has Kaplan looking as if he is being continually electrocuted. His signature facial expression of intense concentration and almost frustration (he seems to scrutinizes his guitar like the most deep and intricate text of philosophy) only adds to the tense thrills of energy pulsing through the audience with each wave of feedback.
For the gorgeous â€œDonâ€™t Have To Be So Sad,â€ the Magnetic Fieldsâ€™ Claudia Gonson and Sam Davol contribute backing vocals and cello. â€œAlyda,â€ is performed with exquisite peacefulness, the lyrics turning into mere whispers, while later, with songs like â€œDouble Dare,â€ our heroes really show their Sonic Youth-esque chops, creating immense noise that threatens to burst lilâ€™ olâ€™ Maxwellâ€™s at the seams.
During the finale, â€œThe Story Of Yo La Tengo,â€ Kaplan weaves his guitar magic with loops and feedback, ending the 10-minute jam in insane abandon complete with Townsend-like thrashes and throes; the audience, utterly transfixed, is slowly deafened.
For the encore, Merritt returns to sing the perfectly suited, though unrehearsed, â€œBe Careful, Itâ€™s My Heartâ€ by Irving Berlin. Doug Gillard of Guided By Voices is then brought onstage, joining YLT for renditions of three impeccable choices: George Gershwinâ€™s â€œA Foggy Day,â€ Hermanâ€™s Hermitsâ€™ â€œNo Milk Today,â€ and the Dictatorsâ€™ â€œNext Big Thing.â€ After Kaplanâ€™s mom sings a version of â€œMy Little Corner Of The Worldâ€ that competes with the original, this audience shuffles into the winter night with one thought: if only holiday carols sounded a bit more like this . . .