December 9, 2010

Rock Over Boston Over Hoboken: Yo La Tengo Hanukkah Residency

Peter Prescott at the 2010 Yo La Tengo Hanukkah Residency
[Peter Prescott sings the Volcano Suns' "Cover" at the night 5 of Yo La Tengo's 2010 Hannukah residency at Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ 12/5/2010. Photo by Michael Piantigini. More here.]

It's sort of like when Boston sold out nine nights at the Centrum in the 80's, except Yo La Tengo does it every year (when they're not on tour, at least).

Every 25th of Kislev (I looked that up), they bogart the schedule of Maxwell's - their legendary Hoboken hometown home base club - to celebrate Hanukkah with an 8 night stand. The only Hanukkah actually visible is the old-school electric menorah sitting on bassist James McNew's formidable amplifier, but these shows are their own sort of revival. Over the years, they've developed their own tradition: the openers are always a surprise - never announced in advance (at least until the first person with a Twitter account arrives at the club), there's a comedian, a mix CD by one of the band or someone close, and the money goes to charity. Sounds good to me.

Watching the coverage of the shows leading up to our night (5) was excruciating - M Ward? Parting Gifts? Jeff Tweedy? SYL JOHNSON? How could they possibly top those?

Mission of Burma has been laying low of late, and they've apparently been writing songs. After opening with "Nu Disco," they tore through a half-dozen or so great new ones before settling into fun cover times: Cream's "NSU," Brian Eno's "7 Deadly Finns," Buzzcocks' "I Don't Mind," an amazing Wipers' "Youth of America," closing it out with a raging run through the Dils' "Class War." The dark, low-ceilinged Maxwell's recalled the smaller clubs that Burma haven't really had to play in their second life. Man does it work for them: Peter Prescott's now-mandatory sound baffle barely contained him, and the now leonine Roger Miller was animated and nearly wild, slashing through impossible chords.

There's not really any info on when we might hear that new Burma album, but I am now officially anticipating it eagerly.

How very clever of Yo La Tengo to provide a comedic palate cleanser, because Burma was hard to follow. It was even tougher for comedian Wyatt Cenac, I'd imagine. How do you get a crowd energized by punk rock and anticipating the headliner to pay attention to your talking? Luckily, the crowd was friendly and jubilant and Cenac mostly connected for his brief set.

I'll try not to gush too much about our hosts, but it ain't easy. Yo La Tengo have proven to be so versatile and reliable over the years and though it would be natural to worry how a band can maintain momentum through an 8 night stand, one needn't.

Yo La Tengo makes a point of keeping things interesting for themselves, as well as their fans; sometimes they're on the road telling stories and playing acoustic, sometimes they're live-soundtracking old undersea nature films, and sometimes they're just making noise (and, in the new year, they're apparently doing all that, plus acting and more). Sunday night's opening set demonstrated that versatility: after easing into things with landmark album I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One's gentle instrumental "Green Arrow," they wound up the buzz with "Evanescent Psychic Pez Drop" from a 1996 split single with Stereolab, leading to guitarist Ira Kaplan working up his first guitar freak-out of the night in "Flying Lesson (Hot Chicken #1)." Turning on a dime, the band instantly hushed the-now frenzied crowd with And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out's confessional "The Crying of Lot G." The mood swing was breathtaking.

The rest of the set was just as varied, with the old and the new; the quiet ("Pablo and Andrea"), the poppy ("Sugarcube"), and the frenzied ("Mushroom Cloud of Hiss"). The band showed no signs of flagging energy, playing with as much intensity as I've ever seen them.

The night's Boston-based undercurrent continued at the top of the encore when the high bidder of an auction benefiting WFMU turned in a more than credible take on Jonathan Richman's "Astral Plane" with a Roger Miller-abetted Yo La Tengo's backing. How cool must that have been?

Swapping out one Burma for a pair, Bob Weston (who had been sitting in with Yo La Tengo all night doing the live sound collage-ing he does with Burma) strapped on a bass while Peter Prescott led his partial Volcano Suns lineup/Yo La Tengo mash-up through a version of the Suns' "Cover" that left me itching to see another full Suns reunion or maybe a reunion of the Prescott-fronted Kustomized.

The rest of Burma joined in for the last trio of covers capped off by Burma-associates Dredd Foole and the Din's "So Tough."

Yes, yet even more Boston. It was super nice of those Mets fans to be so welcoming of us Sox fans.

-Michael Piantigini

Don't miss Ira Kaplan's Hanukkah Diary.

Yo La Tengo: Internets | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter
Mission of Burma: Internets | MySpace
Wyatt Cenac: Internets | IMDB

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