Yo La Tengo has finally got stability

March 04, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

For a long time, Yo La Tengo was less a band than a concept. True, the Hoboken, N.J.-based ensemble has been cranking out albums and playing concerts for over eight years now -- behavior that certainly seemed band-like.

But up until bassist James McNew joined, Yo La Tengo (the name means "I've got it" in Spanish) had what guitarist Ira Kaplan describes as "a floating membership." Kaplan and his wife, drummer Georgia Hubley, were the only permanent players; everyone else was recruited on a per-project basis.

"We were always doing songs with other bass players and lead guitar players," Kaplan says, over the phone from a Memphis hotel room. "There was always an element of kind of teaching the song to whoever was in the band."

It was a weird way to be making music, but as Kaplan points out, that floating-membership approach did have its advantages.

"For a while, we really had two different lineups running simultaneously," he says. "We'd have an upright bassist and a lead guitarist when we played acoustically, and then we'd have an electric bassist who wasn't the same as the upright when we played electrically. Which is the kind of thing that we couldn't have done with a stable lineup."

Still, there's no denying that the band's sound has benefited from having a stable lineup. "Painful," the band's current album, is by far its most consistent, using guitar noise and lithe, droning rhythms to create an interesting and surprisingly organic sonic environment.

"I think it's practically the first record by us where the members of the band were the only people who ever played those songs," Kaplan says. "Even if we didn't necessarily write them together -- some of them we did, some we didn't -- we definitely learned them together."

The relationship with McNew wasn't intended to last this long. "The plan was, he'd play with us for a few months, then we'd find somebody else again," Kaplan says. "Circumstances changed, and he's still here. It happened by accident, which after the amount of time that we had without a third member was almost the only way it could have happened."

To its credit, Yo La Tengo hasn't let its new-found stability affect the band's sense of musical spontaneity. "It's played differently every night," says Kaplan. "The arrangements don't change that much, but I think the mood changes -- even just by changing the order of the songs around. It's certainly different from the record.

"On a good night, it might be a little hard to tell what's worked out and what isn't," he adds "If we play the best we can, I think we might even give the illusion that the set is more constructed than it is, that the moves from song to song are more worked out than they really are.

"So we end up almost giving the illusion that we're making up as it goes along, and that we do the same thing every night. But in reality, we do neither."

Yo La Tengo

When: Tuesday, March 8, 10 p.m.

Where: 8x10 Club

Tickets: $7

Call: (410) 625-2001 for information, (410) 481-7328 for tickets

Have they got it?

To hear how Yo La Tengo's new-found togetherness works out on record, call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County call 268-7736; 836-5028 in Harford County; 848-0338 in Carroll County. Using a touch-tone telephone, punch in the four-digit code 6108 after you hear the greeting.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.