Yo La Tengo
The Carolina Theatre, Durham
Saturday, September 26, 2015

I got my first Yo La Tengo CD, Prisoners Of Love, at a music store in Dulles Airport when I was 15 while picking up my grandma with my dad. I had heard of them because James McNew had lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, and it was important to my friends at the time to listen to music from other people that had grown up nearby. It flipped my pancake. Still, a decade later, I had missed countless opportunities to see Yo La Tengo in person, so I figured it was time to do it at last—even if that meant an acoustic set in a theater, not an electric one in a rock club.

I made it into the three-quarter-full Carolina Theatre, where the stage was set with printed images displayed on stands, mixed in with sparse amplification and instruments and backed by a solid curtain. I missed the mention that early member Dave Schramm would be playing with the trio on this tour, so I got excited when Schramm started on sweet, clear lap steel. There were then some friendly introductions and dedications to the crowd, a couple jokes, then a Devo tune, “Bottled Up” which McNew led while playing his upright bass. It was an early highlight. The band followed with Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and nailed it, but I wished that Schramm’s lap steel had been all over that one. “Naples” by Antietam was another highlight for the first set, continuing the pace and vibe into which the room had pleasantly sunk.

There was no real settling back in after the brief intermission, and it quickly became clear that there would be more Tengo hits for the second set. While the crew did stick to their new record, Stuff Like That There, by covering The Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love” and Darlene McCrea’s “My Heart’s Not In It,” the real crowd reaction came with Yo La Tengo’s own tunes—“Our Way To Fall,”“Ohm,”“Big Day Coming” and “One PM Again.” The band finally got good and crunchy when bringing in “Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind.”

Indeed, my only complaint until then had been that Yo La Tengo hadn’t fully released into a heavier, extended jam. Even with the limitations of acoustic instruments, the quartet managed to get down and provide. Eventually, a lengthy applause sustained while the group made its way off the stage. The encore came and went, and we felt good sitting in the glow of the woozy AM country radio setting that Yo La Tengo had provided. The level of professionalism and musicianship seems to be something that only can come with 30 years of playing and being on the road. And while at times I had wished that my first show with Yo La Tengo had been electric and with more variation, it won’t stop me from seeing the band again. In fact, it makes it all the more necessary, and I won’t wait 10 more years.