Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Pop on the Rocks

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Pop on the Rocks

Article excerpt

Saturday night at the Gargoyle, a basement lounge/rec-room-sorta place at the Wash U. campus, and I'm feeling like the actor Peter Horton in the film version of Stephen King's "Children of the Corn." I'm surrounded by younger-than-young looking college students, and they are all standing stock-still, staring straight ahead, wordlessly watching the New Jersey-based trio Yo La Tengo onstage.

The only variation on this well-behaved if weird theme comes from a handful of kids at the lip of the stage, shaking their heads in time to the music, and a few stragglers hanging on the fringe smoking cigarettes. When a song ends there is respectful applause, followed by a deafening silence, shattered only when the next song thankfully begins.

It all feels strangely like a rock 'n' roll recital. It's impossible to escape the weight of the academy above, and the unique response of the children of a new age below.

Yo La Tengo's guitarist-singer Ira Kaplan, drummer Georgia Hubley, and bassist James McNew (who each take turns on the organ as well) are making abstract pop-rock songs beneath the stage lights, music that is bittersweet and ambient one minute, feedback-driven and wailing with a gale force the next. The set-closing "Blue Line Swinger" builds into an explosive rapture, a swirling mix of frenetic, distorto-guitar and hypnotic rhythm. The song ends. Everyone politely applauds. Then the silence returns.

Ira Kaplan: Neither a writer who rocks nor a rocker who writes - Discuss amongst yourselves. . .

After the show, I ask Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan the one question he's really tired of answering. I honestly don't mean to, and Kaplan's way too polite to tell me outright how tiresome he finds it.

The question is about how he used to be a music writer. Seeing as how Kaplan has been in Yo La Tengo since it formed in the mid-80's, I wondered if he'd ever felt any conflict in both writing about music and playing it. But as he struggles to answer, it becomes painfully clear it's a subject his heart isn't in.

Realizing I've stepped into one of those gooey, hard-to-extricate-myself interview moments, I try to spare us both by asking if I'm belaboring the issue. …

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