While Pavement may have proved more influential, and Guided By Voices more prolific, it's hard to argue that any two bands lived up to Matador Records' indie dream of the '90s better than Yo La Tengo and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Now, on the mildly depressing 20-year anniversary of both bands' Matador debuts, a coincidental bit of tour scheduling has left their overlapping fan bases with a bit of a quandary. This Saturday night, Yo La Tengo will be supporting their new album Fade at Mercy Lounge, while the Blues Explosion hawks their 2012 comeback record Meat and Bone at Exit/In. So, to which iconoclastic cult heroes should an indie-rock kid throw his loyalties?
The Yo La Tengo Argument
First and foremost, for all the warm and fuzzy feelings still evoked by albums like Painful (1993) and I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One (1997), the records themselves have only ever communicated a small portion of the total Yo La Tengo experience. Don't get me wrong: The longtime trio of Ira Kaplan (vocals, guitar), his wife Georgia Hubley (vocals, drums) and bassist James McNew is still crafting lovely, adventurous pop albums, as evidenced again by the sneakily addictive lo-fi melodies on Fade, their 13th full-length release. But as any devotee can tell you, the full scope of Yo La Tengo's ridiculous versatility can only truly be witnessed at a live show.
"The set list changes every night," McNew told me in a recent interview. "Literally, every show that we do is different. It's like a puzzle, sort of, to put it together, depending on where you are. If it's a place you've played before, you want to come up with something different than last time. And if it's a place you've never been before, chances are the shows are going to be longer than usual and the songs are older than usual. It's always fun putting that stuff together."
It's important to note here that when McNew is talking about set lists, he isn't just describing song choices from YLT's quarter-century of back-catalog material. Kaplan and his mates are also notorious music-history geeks, apt to cover just about any artist — and any genre — that floats their boat on a particular night. The last time I saw them, for example, their encore included surprisingly cohesive back-to-back covers of English folk-rock pioneers Fairport Convention and experimental space-jazz luminary Sun Ra.
Basically, no matter how many times you've seen these guys, you're guaranteed a show as spirited and unpredictable as the last one. With all due respect to the Blues Explosion, this is an easy decision. —AC
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Argument
Given the fact that Jon Spencer and Yo La Tengo have a history of joining forces onstage to cover classics by Spencer's former scuzz-punk outfit Pussy Galore and fellow '90s alt vets Superchunk, it's nothing short of a crying shame that they'll be working their magic independently just a few rock blocks away from one another. This is the hand we're dealt, and which card you play simply depends on whether or not you're the gambling type.
As noted above, not even the band itself can suggest with any modicum of precision what to expect from a given Yo La Tengo show. YLT's eclectic catalog lends itself to all sorts of whimsy, wonder and unexpected surprises. However, I can quantify with almost absolute certainty what to expect from Jon Spencer Blues Explosion at Exit/In. The question is whether you have the mental capacity to fully fathom even a fraction of the experience I'm about to describe.
Until you've seen and heard with your very own ears and eyes the squealing highs and muddy lows delivered with the kind of samurai precision and world-class showmanship only a couple decades in the game can provide, an element of the unknown still awaits. That said, you can absolutely expect a healthy dose of the band's newest, Meat and Bone, as it's their first in eight years. But even if their raw-but-majestic comeback has yet to meet your approval, Spencer knows how much you love the '90s. The band did their last tour in support of the whole decade's reissued discography. You'll hear "Bellbottoms." You'll hear "Afro." You will get what you came for. Whereas, with a band like Yo La Tengo, you come for what you get. —SG
This post just introduced me to Justice Yeldham. Holy shit.
Never heard of any of these artists?
Awesome!Love everything Jerry puts out. Definitely check out the Tue Mommies bandcamp for more golden…
the no droning rule is fucking dumb
"I love the smell of napalm in the morning...wait, what? That's not napalm??!"