The Hoboken-based Yo La Tengo — which formed back in 1984 and whose first album came out two years later — named itself after what New York Mets outfielder Richie Ashburn (in the expansion team’s first season) would yell to Spanish-speaking teammate (and former Red) Elio Chacon to call him away from fly balls. It means “I’ve got it” and was meant to avoid collisions between the two. Legend (and Wikipedia) has it that once Ashburn yelled it to Chacon only to have non-Spanish-speaking outfielder Frank Thomas plow into him.
“What the heck is a yellow tango,” Thomas reportedly said.
Popular Songs is widely regarded as one of the band’s best, with many of the Yo La Tengo originals being concise, melodic Rock songs with trenchantly observed lyrics that emerge from the textured soundscape.
For example, on “Periodically Double or Triple,” Kaplan sings these words of wisdom: “Never read Proust, seems a little too long/Never used a hammer, without somehow using it wrong.”
Other songs feature longer guitar explorations that build from a signature repeated phrase and head transcendently toward the cosmos, trailing a comet’s worth of feedback. That yin-yang approach, coupled with the affectless, naturalistic way Kaplan and Hubley both sing lead, has earned Yo La Tengo praise aplenty as Rock’s truest heirs to the Velvet Underground. (Yo La Tengo even played Velvet Underground in the movie I Shot Andy Warhol.)
Yo La Tengo’s musicianship wasn’t always a given. For its first few years of existence, it was considered a sort of hipster side project for Kaplan — a Rock writer — and Hubley, an artist and daughter of animators. Both wrote and sang; they used other guest musicians to fill out the sound. In those early days, their actual musicianship was a work-in-progress.
They play with Wussy on Saturday at the Southgate House. Buy tickets and get show and club details here.
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