Yo La Tengo (Esplanade, Singapore, 12 March 2007)

Let me make this clear upfront, I’m not capable of being very objective about a Yo La Tengo gig so this isn’t a review, it’s just the attempt of a rather verklempt fangirl to capture how tonight made her feel.

About ten years ago, I bought my first Yo La Tengo album. Coming across it by chance while browsing in Borders, I recognised the name from lonely Internet indie wanderings and BigO magazine reviews, so although Electr-O-Pura didn’t sound like the most promising of album names I decided it was worth risking the $16 (yes, Borders sold a fair number of good indie albums for cheap back then) and snapped it up. Ten years later I’m home from my third Yo La Tengo gig, and the fact that they’re still able to make me feel the wonder and excitement I felt when I first heard Electr-O-Pura is meaningful in all sorts of ways that are hard to talk about without sounding cheesy. So consider yourselves warned.


  • From A Motel 6
  • Our Way To Fall
  • Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind
  • Little Eyes
  • The Weakest Part
  • Beanbag Chair
  • Mr Tough
  • I Feel Like Going Home
  • Big Day Coming
  • Tom Courtenay
  • Watch Out For Me Ronnie
  • The Story Of Yo La Tango


  • We’re An American Band
  • You Can Have It All

It was quite a short gig (about 90 minutes) – their time was limited because Rickie Lee Jones was playing later on. But given that I emerged from the first time I saw them (where they played much longer) unable to speak, perhaps it was for the best.

As you can see from the setlist, they played a number of songs from the new album, most of which were as fun as they are on the recording but not particularly different either. Unfortunately, they didn’t play Black Flowers. But fortunately, they played the fuck out of The Story Of Yo La Tango. I have not the words. All I can say is that there was a lot of beautiful noise for a very long time, and at the end half the audience sprang to their feet screaming.

Apart from the new album, they played 2 songs from Painful, which is my favourite YLT album, so yay! They started the gig with From A Motel 6 and later played the rawk version of Big Day Coming, with Ira on keyboards literally tottering under his assault. They launched from that straight into Tom Courtenay, which is one of my favourite songs from Electr-O-Pura and OF MY ENTIRE LIFE, so um, yeah, little tears.

From And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out they did a lovely Our Way To Fall and a slightly disappointing stripped-down (yes, even more stripped down) version of You Can Have It All which didn’t really work for me. Only one nod to Summer Sun, which is fair, and Little Eyes features the coolness of Georgia drumming and singing lead vocals at the same time, so I was happy there too.

When they walked off the stage after The Story Of Yo La Tango, I was surprised they hadn’t played anything from I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One yet, but placed my hope in the encore. When they came back on Ira asked some members of the audience for requests. The first guy apparently said “Anything” and the second guy was drowned out by everyone else in the audience shouting our own requests. After the third guy Ira climbed back on stage saying they’d try his request but didn’t know if they had enough time, then launched into We’re An American Band. I’d have slightly preferred Deeper Into Movies but it was great to hear this too, so thanks, third guy!

After the gig there was an autograph session for the first 60 people who bought an album at the merchandise stand, so I bought the new one and got in line. At this point the shaking and slight teariness that started during Tom Courtenay came back, so I spent most of my time in the queue quietly freaking out. I had no idea what to say to them, but because music (not lyrics, just music) makes me more emotional than books or movies ever have, it was looking highly possible that I might burst into tears.

My turn came. This is how I remember it going:
Me (lots of stammering edited out): Um, I can’t really talk about 10 years of listening to you in 10 seconds, so I’ll just say thank you. Thank you so much.
YLT members: [general smiles and thank yous]
Me, babbling on: I’ve seen you 3 times now, and each time you’ve been wonderful. [They’d finished signing my CD by now so I staggered off figuring I might as well make my escape before I said something truly mortifying.]
YLT members (I don’t remember who said what), calling after me: Where were the other 2 times?
Me: London. [Staggering off again.]
YLT members, calling after me again: Where in London?
Me (stammering): Shepherd’s Bush and Somerset House. [At this point my descent begins.] It was a crime that you opened for Calexico, they should have opened for you.
YLT members: [Laughing.]
Me: [Finally staggering off for good.]

Look, it could have been worse. My idea of what constituted “a crime” was clearly lame (also a little unfair given that I actually love Calexico, just not as much as I love YLT), but at least I didn’t cry. And sitting in my room a few hours later, it’s already easy enough to forget my lameness. My abiding memory of this night will remain those ten seconds where with all my bumbling sincerity I finally got the chance to tell some of the musicians who have given me the most happiness in my life of loving music: thank you. I don’t expect this to mean much to anyone else or even to the band themselves, but it meant a whole lot to me.

Yo La Tengo/Calexico (Somerset House, London, July 2003)

Monday was a brief respite from international trade law into indie music.

I trawled Berwick Street with ever-patient Benny, sold about 10 CDs and justified buying more on the grounds that I’d probably have to pay expensive import prices for these in Singapore:

  • King Geedorah: Take Me To Your Leader
  • Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks: Pig Lib
  • Manitoba: Start Breaking My Heart

This was all a prelude to meeting Alec (and Benny’s friend Polly, as Yo La Tengo mad as me) for the Yo La Tengo/Calexico gig at Somerset House in the evening.

Yo La Tengo started off, which seemed strange given their relatively senior status in the indie pantheon. They played many songs off Summer Sun, which I haven’t listened to yet, a fun frantic screechy version of Cherry Chapstick, and Tom Courtenay, which I love madly, and which they didn’t play the first time I saw them live. They finished with Sun Ra’s Nuclear War and left the stage with its ending whispers of “Goodbye.” They displayed everything I loved about them the first time I saw them live, and given the same amount of time with them I feel certain I would have emerged in a similar state of gibbering. But that pleasure was denied me. The length of the set seemed distinctly that of an “opening band”, which is really a bit of a travesty given that the marketing of the gig never indicated that Calexico would be headlining, and Yo La Tengo relegated.

I guess it’s a credit to Calexico that they mostly managed to assuage my dissatisfaction with the length of the YLT set by putting on an excellent show. It seemed as if they livened up the Feast Of Wire songs a little for the performance, which worked fine for most of them, but disappointed me for Black Heart, where they opted for Bond movie music razzle-dazzle, glitz and glam and general high campness in the strings rather than the mournful, desert-on-the-darker-side-of-dusk feel it had (and I loved) on the album. It seemed as though they’d decided that the overriding tone of this gig would be a party, which isn’t necessarily a bad decision, especially when you have trumpets and frequently do that country-yodelly “Aiiiiyiyiyiyi!” thing at appropriate bits in the songs.

Leaving the gig, it occurred to me that I’d actually seen both these bands in the space of an April week a little over two years ago, Yo La Tengo headlining (as they SHOULD be, damn you Somerset House) on the Tuesday and Calexico opening for Stephen Malkmus on the Thursday. I saw both gigs with Marten, who was, at the time, the only person in my London circle of friends who had even heard of most of the bands I wanted to see (I had abundant clubbing companions, but only Marten for gigs). I remember coming back from the Malkmus gig and meeting Alec, about to get drunk, in the basement of our hall. Neither of us had the tiniest inkling of any future connection beyond mild recognition of each other’s photos in the hall yearbook.

How things change.