Live: The National Open, But Yo La Tengo Dominate During Their Final Hanukkah Night At Maxwell’s


Yo La Tengo/The National
Wednesday, December 8

Better than: The other seven nights, kinda.

Nels Cline sitting in Tuesday was pretty sweet. Ditto Jeff Tweedy a few nights earlier. Likewise (of course) when the Feelies showed up last Thursday, celebrating the 26th anniversary of Yo La Tengo’s very first show, on this very same Maxwell’s stage. And no way to deny Will Oldham singing The Bells-era Lou Reed, also on Tuesday. But, despite a worshipful opening set by the National (whose over-politeness was well served by the Maxwell’s stage and, in the Hanukkah spirit, might be left at that), the final stand of Yo La Tengo’s eight-night Hanukkah run is absent big, click-through names. Instead, fans get the band’s longtime pal, Hamish Kilgour, drummer for New Zealand indie-pop staples the Clean, to assist in perhaps the most satisfying performance of the eight-day week.

It’s a perfect, laid-back pairing for the frayed trio, who play with an exhausted looseness and effortless groove that comes with eight consecutive guest-studded gigs. Opening with the week’s only airing of the 15-minute quiet-noise jam “Night Falls on Hoboken,” guitarist Ira Kaplan lets loose acoustic feedback over his bandmates’ slow, spare exotica, like waves on a winter ocean, switching to the second drum kit as the song crests.

Later, Georgia Hubley comes out from behind the drums for three new songs to add to the list of 130 titles they’ve already played over the week, at least two of them new to YLT’s 26-year-running fakebook. Fronting the band, she honors a request by Kilgour to play a winning ’60s obscurity by folksinger Norma Tanega, “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog.” She joins Kaplan at the overdriven organs for a Kilgour-led Clean tune, “Whatever I Do It’s Right.” Hubley and Kilgour then take to guitars for “Sweet Dreams,” by the Mad Scene, Kilgour’s main gig these days (which features Hubley, when she’s in town).

Mostly, Kaplan, Hubley, and bassist James McNew seem beyond giddy, or maybe just beyond punch-drunk — well into the land of bliss. For a legendarily taciturn band, the stage is oddly awash in smiles. There are occasional dropped beats (as during an otherwise propulsive “Deeper Into Movies”), sly glances, and outright tiredness (during, er, “Tired Hippo”). Another band buddy, A-Bones guitarist Bruce Bennett, joins the band for a quick seasonal rave-up on “I Can’t Stand It Anymore,” before Kaplan takes over.

During “Love Power,” a piece of ’60s reliquary from Mel Brooks’ The Producers, Kaplan does something uncharacteristic and launches himself into the crowd, looking as stiff as one might expect as he screams into the mic. “I LOVE PLAYING IN THIS BAND! I LOVE THE EIGHT NIGHTS OF HANUKKAH!” he declares, offering a running report as he’s passed to the back of the room. “WHAT THE FUCK? WAIT!” he adds, disappearing, and eventually reappearing: “THAT’S MORE LIKE IT!” He collapses back onstage, red Converse in the air. The electric menorah is brought out, the band blows, and the plug is pulled.

Critical Bias: Went to all eight shows. Would go to another eight.

Overheard: “I think today was the day Pimp C died, too. Maybe we’ll get a tribute to him.”

Random Notebook Dump:: G&I have a smiling moment, making eye contact during a joint cymbal build in “Night Falls.”

(Entire set, minus last two songs and encore, features Hamish Kilgour on percussion) Night Falls On Hoboken
Eight Days A Week (The Beatles)
Mr. Tough
Gentle Hour (Snapper)
Tired Hippo
Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog (Norma Tanega)
Whatever I Do It’s Right (The Clean)
Sweet Dreams (The Mad Scene)
Sudden Organ
Deeper Into Movies
Nothing To Hide
Blue Line Swinger
Our Way To Fall

I Can’t Stand It Anymore (Velvet Underground) (with Bruce Bennett on guitar)
We Belong Together (Randy Newman)
Love Power (Mel Brooks) (with Gil Divine on guitar)