Yo La Tengo perform at the Wild Buffalo House of Music on Feb. 17, 2023. (Photo by Mark Caicedo)
“We’ve been doing this for 39 years… but this is our first time in Bellingham!” If the sold-out crowd on a recent Friday night at the Wild Buffalo has any say, it won’t be Yo La Tengo’s last time either.
Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley formed Yo La Tengo (YLT) as a couple in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1984. They chose the name, Spanish for “I have it,” based on an anecdote about the 1962 New York Mets outfielders colliding into one another because of language issues. Center fielder Richie Ashburn would holler, “I got it! I got it!” only to run into Venezuelan shortstop Elio Chacón who spoke only Spanish.
Their solution was for Ashburn to yell, “Yo la tengo! Yo la tengo!” That plan soon failed when left-fielder Frank Thomas, who wasn’t clued into the new procedure, ran over Ashburn as they both chased a pop-up fly. After getting up, Thomas reportedly asked Ashburn, “What the hell is a yellow tango?”
Humorous baseball stories aside, Ira and Georgia’s musical vision has led to an impressive discography and collaborations with diverse musicians across the musical spectrum. Their first album, Ride the Tiger (Coyote Records), was released in 1986. The band has remained active ever since, collaborating with a wide variety of artists, touring extensively, releasing 17 albums (as well as several EPs), and culminating in the February 2023 release of This Stupid World (Matador Records).
Stream this Stupid World by Yo La Tengo on Spotify.
Before this show I had only a basic familiarity with Yo La Tengo’s work but hearing the band live gave me an appreciation for the music before delving into its extensive catalog. If live performance gives one a window into the spontaneity, power, and drive of a band, then YLT blew me away and, judging from the crowd’s reaction, most of whom were long-time fans, the feeling was shared. Since 1992, the band’s lineup has remained Ira Kaplan (guitars, keyboards, vocals), Georgia Hubley (drums, keyboards, vocals), and James McNew (bass, keyboards, vocals). True to form, the trio filled the spacious Wild Buffalo with raucous sound: Ira coaxing a dizzying array of sounds from his guitar; Georgia, her expert drumming surpassed only by her gorgeous vocals that provided a wonderful melodic counterpoint to McNew’s powerful bass lines.
Watch the official music video for “Sinatra Drive Breakdown” from This Stupid World by Yo La Tengo on YouTube.
On Feb. 17, the performance was pure Yo La Tengo: indie folk rock, ear-splitting guitar droning, and delicate lo-fi ballads. At precisely 8:30pm, Ira, Georgia, and James hit the stage, opening with an inspired “Sinatra Drive Breakdown” running into “Tonight’s Episode” from the new album. “Season of the Shark” from 2003’s Summer Sun, was a slight journey into the past before returning to the new album with “Aselestine” and “Until it Happens.” “Satellite” from May I Sing With Me (1992), “The Summer” from Fakebook (1989), and “Our Way to Fall” from And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (2000) took the audience deep into YLT’s catalog before returning to the present with “Miles Away” from This Stupid World. The evening would eventually include seven of the new album’s nine songs, with the rest of the 22-song set consisting of selections from the past four decades and a few well-chosen covers.
The second set opened with a blistering “This Stupid World” followed by the 2022 EP track, “Fallout” with its shades of ’90s power pop reminiscent of REM and Wussy. “Moby Octopad,” from 1997’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One took us back to the last millennium again before returning to songs from the 21st century for the remainder of the second set. “Little Honda,” a fuzzed-out Beach Boys cover, closed the show. The encores began with “Sugarcube” again from I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, segued into the C&W whimsy of “My Heart’s Not In It,” and closed with the John Cale classic “Andalucia.”
Watch Yo La Tengo’s hilarious official music video for “Sugarcube” on YouTube.
Sinatra Drive Breakdown
Season of the Shark
Until It Happens
Our Way to Fall
This Stupid World
Shades of Blue
Nothing to Hide
Deeper Into Movies
Little Honda (Beach Boys)
My Heart’s Not in It (Darlene McCrea)
Andalucia (John Cale)
Yo La Tengo continues on the road in the USA and Europe through May 2023, with many dates already sold out. To learn more about new recordings and future tour plans check YLT’s website.
Here are some more photos of Yo La Tengo live at the Wild Buffalo on Feb. 17, 2023. All photos courtesy of and copyright Mark Caicedo.