New York City’s resplendent Town Hall is quite a place to have a birthday party. Amid the glistening chandeliers and velvety red carpet, an unassuming crowd filed in, featuring a mix of young kids with neon hair, older folks with silver hair, and everyone in between. Yo La Tengo’s longstanding, universal appeal manifested.
For the Hoboken trio’s thirtieth anniversary, they invited several friends and fans for a couple of back-to-back celebrations in Times Square, featuring opening bands/YLT BFF’s Antietam on 12/3 and The Feelies on 12/4. Sadly, I was only able to attend the latter show, but happily (and not surprisingly) it was excellent.
The Feelies appeared on stage at 8pm on the dot, and though half the audience were still searching for their seats, people still called out “Hi guys!” and “Hey Stan!” [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Stan Demeski, drummer] as if we were all old friends catching up over our favorite ’80s indie rock. The band launched right into their impeccable set with intense focus and a skittering energy that made them as enjoyable to watch as they were to listen to. Highlights of their hour included “Away” and “Deep Fascination”—both off The Feelies’ 1988 album Only Life—and the impressively sped up rendition of “Crazy Rhythms” that made it nearly impossible for the crowd to resist getting out of their seats and rocking out. It was easy to see (rather, hear) how the Feelies truly comprise part of the foundation on which Yo La Tengo was built, particularly with their screechy guitar solos. By the end of their set, all of the band members were wiping sweat from under their slipping glasses.
Then came the guests of honor: guitarist Ira Kaplan, drummer Georgia Hubley, and bassist James McNew. They began with “Ohm,” off of their 2013 record, Fade. Normally a rather innocuous and—per its name—meditative track, here it was reincarnated as abrasive and noisy, with Ira flailing along with his guitar. They truly ripped the song to shreds, and this for their opening number. The rest of the set took the audience on a tour through Yo La Tengo’s thirty years, featuring bygone gems “The Cone of Silence” from their debut album Ride The Tiger (with longtime YLT pal Dave Schramm on guitar) and “Upside-Down” from 1992’s May I Sing With Me, as well as crowd favorites “Hey Mr. Tough” and an outstanding, nearly fifteen-minute-long version of “I Heard You Looking” with Feelies’ guitarists Glenn Mercer and Bill Million along for the ride. Ira, in his classic striped t-shirt and jeans uniform, commented at one point that “the idea that we get to play with [The Feelies] in this century is so special to us,” and the crowd heartily agreed.
For their encore, the threesome treated the crowd to an intimately acoustic, Georgia-led version of “Big Day Coming” (featured on the recently released deluxe album Extra Painful) and a cover of Neil Young’s “Time Fades Away.” For their very last number, Yo La Tengo were joined by all members of The Feelies onstage, with Ira commenting, “Thirty years and two days ago we played at Maxwell’s for the first time and this is the last song we played that night.” And midway through this momentous cover of The Psychedelic Furs’ “Pretty in Pink,” Ira snuck a glance back towards his two bandmates huddled by the drum set, and the three of them exchanged smiles. It was a rare moment and possibly the biggest public display of affection from Yo La Tengo, and the perfect ending to a show that genuinely felt like a family affair (albeit a very badass one). The bands left the stage and the crowd poured out into the blistering cold, but the show’s warmth lingered on each of us like a blanket for the rest of the night.