Yo La Tengo’s James McNew Digs Dump Out of Mothballs at Maxwell’s


April 24th

Besides the redacted masterpiece-cum-Prince-tribute, That Skinny Motherfucker With the High Voice?, James McNew’s Dump project is frequently so unassuming that one could mistake them for not existing at all. Virtually silent since 2003’s A Grown-Ass Man—released, in typical fashion, on the same day as Summer Sun, the then-new album by his day gig, Yo La Tengo—McNew has recently revived Dump in even more typical low-key fashion: a cover on a Why? EP, a split 7-inch (and MySpace remix) with Jennifer O’Connor, and a few unpromoted opening slots for still-underground indie vets.

Appearing before ’80s Columbus staples Great Plains and reunited Boston quartet Big Dipper at Maxwell’s, McNew’s 40-minute set was in some ways the opposite of Yo La Tengo’s Hanukkah blow-outs here. Not because it sounded particularly idiosyncratic so much as entirely natural, the music resisted all but the most vague of genre tags. It was indie. Or something. McNew introduced nothing, let alone his band—himself on mildly crunched Gibson hollow-body and drum machine, girlfriend Amy on Casio. “Sometimes, the best thing to say is nothing at all,” McNew sang on one number, either a brand new tune or an unGoogleable cover, cleanly practicing the show-don’t-tell school of stagecraft.

“Alright, 18 more songs and then Great Plains will be up,” McNew announced before the best of the batch. “It’s not the first time, lost and now I’m found,” he sang, on the gorgeous spring night, “can’t wait for winter to come back around.” McNew’s one-man coo, the looped strums, the drum machine’s digi-swing, and accompanying Casio patterns combined to recall Brooklyn electro-tweeters Au Revoir Simone. Though mostly singing solo, McNew’s high, fragile voice—employed earlier this week to give Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward a bit of that Yo La Tengo feel on Conan O’Brien—implied all the harmonies of which it usually accompanies. And only on the last song, spiraling to a close and reaching for a vintage YLT bah bah bah-bah refrain, did Dump seem to want to say more than nothing at all.