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.