Yo La Tengo in concert tonight – live at National Sawdust Festival 2018, recorded on March 6, 2018.
Yo La Tengo (YLT; Spanish for “I have it”) formed in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1984. Since 1992, the lineup has consisted of Ira Kaplan (guitars, piano, vocals), Georgia Hubley (drums, piano, vocals), and James McNew (bass, vocals). In 2015, original guitarist Dave Schramm rejoined the band and appears on their fourteenth album, Stuff Like That There.
Despite achieving limited mainstream success, Yo La Tengo has been called “the quintessential critics’ band” and maintains a strong cult following. Though they mostly play original material, the band performs a wide repertoire of cover songs both in live performance and on record.
Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley formed the band as a couple in 1984. They chose the name Yo La Tengo, Spanish for “I have it”. The name came from a baseball anecdote that occurred during the 1962 season, when New York Mets center fielder Richie Ashburn and shortstop Elio Chacón found themselves colliding in the outfield. When Ashburn went for a catch, he would scream, “I got it! I got it!” only to run into Chacón, a Venezuelan who spoke only Spanish. Ashburn learned to yell, “Yo la tengo! Yo la tengo!” instead. In a later game, Ashburn happily saw Chacón backing off. He relaxed, positioned himself to catch the ball, and was instead run over by left fielder Frank Thomas, who understood no Spanish and had missed a team meeting that proposed using the words “Yo la tengo!” as a way to avoid outfield collisions. After getting up, Thomas asked Ashburn, “What the hell is a yellow tango?”
In 1986, Yo La Tengo released their first LP, Ride the Tiger on Coyote Records. Produced by former Mission of Burma bassist Clint Conley who also took over bass duties on three songs, the album “marked Yo La Tengo as a band with real potential” according to reviewer Mark Deming. Kaplan was credited as “naive guitar” on the sleeve, and in the liner notes for the 1993 reissue of the album on City Slang Records, went so far as to say “Dave’s guitar playing is inarguably the best thing about the record.”
Schramm and Lewis left the band after the album’s release, with Kaplan subsequently taking on the role of lead guitar and Stephan Wichnewski joining to play bass. The group’s next album New Wave Hot Dogs (1987) sold poorly, but, in the words of Mark Deming, “was a quantum leap over the sound of their debut.”
The release of President Yo La Tengo in 1989 did much to establish the band’s reputation among rock critics including Robert Christgau who praised the “mysterioso guitar hook” in the first song titled “Barnaby, Hardly Working”. Produced by Gene Holder of The dB’s, the album was the band’s last release on Coyote. Despite the positive reception of the album, sales were still poor and Wichnewski left the band not long after. Hubley and Kaplan carried on as a duo and began playing two-electric-guitar shows. Kaplan, though typically a pragmatist, started carrying a bug trapped in amber in his pocket for luck.
On August 28, 2015, Yo La Tengo released Stuff Like That There, an album (and “a sequel of sorts to Fakebook”) of re-recorded versions of some of their old songs as well as covers, including songs by The Cure, Hank Williams, and Sun Ra.
In 2018, Yo La Tengo released their 15th studio album, There’s a Riot Going On, which Pitchfork decided ‘reflects the group’s greatest and most instantly recognizable strengths’.
In 2020, Yo La Tengo released We Have Amnesia Sometimes which was recorded over a 10-day period from late April to early May amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The album consists of five instrumental, ambient compositions which were recorded with one microphone in the room and the band spread out adhering to social distance protocols laid out by Governor Murphy of New Jersey.
On February 10, 2023, the band will release their seventeenth studio album This Stupid World.
Now you’re caught up – Press Play and dive into National Sawdust 2018.
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