LIVE: Yo La Tengo @ Royal Festival Hall, London (EFG London Jazz Festival)

Diverse, irregular, free-spirited: Yo La Tengo's set for EFG London Jazz Festival was an exhilarating cocktail of their dynamic career and talents.
Posted: 22 November 2021 Words: Georgia Spanos Photos: Edgar Wright

Yo La Tengo, the 1984-formed indie rock band of New Jersey are no strangers to the underground music scene. Their followers boast a cult-following loyalty, and their music (carrying influences from folk to punk and even electronic) truly knows no bounds.

At first glance of the Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall stage, with two drum kits, multiple keyboards, and countless guitars (both electric and acoustic), it's clear there's a dynamic performance ahead, scheduled as part of EFG London Jazz Festival. And on come the band's three long-term members - Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew - walking to their instruments.

'You Are Here', a lucid and ambient track, opens the performance with both drum kits going, jumping between consistent and improvised beats. It’s the perfect mood-setter for the evening. ‘Ashes’ rolls on after; it’s bossa nova charm swaying our shoulders. The first set flows through their most dream-like tracks, with ‘She May She Might / Ack Ack Ack Ack' being of special note, the twang of Kaplan’s guitar leading us through the soft, pitter-pattering drum fills. The melody of ‘I'll Be Around’ is recognised by the crowd and is soft indie rock nostalgia at its best, and ‘Nowhere Near’ concludes the first set. All three members come to the front of the stage, performing (arguably) their most renowned track calmly.

'From a Motel 6' blasts through the halls almost instantly after the second set of the evening. The power and energy has completely shifted: the shredding begins. Kaplan fiddles around with the guitar pedal while Hubley and McNew switch between their instruments, and it's now you see Yo La Tengo through an experimental, punk lens. 'Mr Tough' then brings the funk, with McNew singing the lyrics “pretend everything can be alright” with an uplifting, groovy rhythm. ‘Shades of Blue’ gets freaky, as Kaplan jumps over to McNew's keys, and sporadically smashes the keyboard. It produces an uncomfortable but strangely cool sound, while Hubley rumbles on the toms. Towards the end, Kaplan is completely enthralled on the floor with his guitar, in 'Blue Line Swinger', and just let's loose entirely. 

Yo La Tengo’s performance was an exhilarating cocktail of their dynamic career and talents, performing both soft and dreamy sounds, along with rebellious and hearty. Although some may not see Yo La Tengo as a jazz collective, their music is the epitome of jazz: diverse, irregular, free-spirited, and performed by resounding talents that can truly move a crowd.

To hear more from Yo La Tengo, click here.

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