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Yo La Tengo | Royal Festival Hall, South Bank Centre, London
Friday 12 May 2000
Other contestants in the Heckler of the Year awards will find it hard to beat the wit here who, upon Yo La Tengo's singer Ira Kaplan's invitation to the audience to fill a few unoccupied chairs near the stage, expressed his solidarity with a cry of "reclaim the seats".
Such dry humour is perfectly in keeping with the evening's mood as the veteran New Jersey art rock trio (in fact, they are based minutes from Manhattan in Hoboken, Sinatra's home town) augment their ranks with three English cult artists of different generations. There is that perennial friend of the stars Robyn Hitchcock; Britain's greatest pasticheur and a fine musician in his own right, Neil Innes; and the founder of Spacemen 3, long-time audio experimenter Peter "Sonic Boom" Kember.
If this sounds like an unlikely combination for the Arts Council to sponsor, well, that's because it is. So disparate are they visually that at times the stage appears to be filled with guests from a wedding reception who have popped up for a bash while others are raiding the buffet. The core threesome of Kaplan, bassist James McNew and drummer Georgia Hubley are present at all times, while the others wander on and off as and when their services are required, or, if they don't move quickly enough, are condemned to the spare snare spot in front of the kit. It works remarkably well. Hitchcock, sporting a grey mop reminiscent of Germaine Greer, roars through "I Wanna Destroy You"; Innes, whose deft touches on piano delight all night, leads a few Bonzo Dog and Rutles tunes, including an excellent encore of "Mr Apollo" and the Prefab Four's great "Cheese And Onions"; while Sonic, job description quite possibly "wind noise generator operator", even gets to sing his own "Transparent Radiation".
But YLT are the main attraction and their relaxed performance peaks with a gorgeous version of "Autumn Sweater", a terrific "Moby Octopad" and their affectionate cover of George "Rock Your Baby" McCrae's Seventies piece of disco fluff "You Can Have It All", complete with endearing, straight-faced dance moves in the polyester suit tradition from Kaplan and McNew.
The extended guitar freakout of "I Heard You Looking" might have been better curtailed at the point when Kaplan, these days bearing an uncanny resemblance to Larry Sanders/ Garry Shandling, unintentionally unplugged his Stratocaster - but it hardly mattered.
From a band whose understated music sometimes implies much more than the actual sum of its parts produces, this was an excellent show, entertaining and inventive throughout.
As for their choice of collaborators, apparently it was no more than a case of "if you ask them, they will come". All in all, a satisfyingly different event then.
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