Leeds International Festival review: Yo La Tengo at The Church

Ira Kaplan is swinging his guitar around by its neck, having studiously detuned it over the sprawling length of set closer '˜The Story Of Yo La Tengo'.

Yo La Tengo
Yo La Tengo

A man possessed, his instrument’s feedback forms an angry squall over wife Georgia Hubley’s increasingly frenetic drumming and James McNew’s droning bass.

The kind of distorted noise-fest that even Sonic Youth would have stepped back from, it forms a sharp contrast with earlier segments of the Hoboken trio’s show. Split into two sets, the songs build across the wayward progression of their 30-year career and takes in slo-core pop, experimental wig-outs, and heavy garage rock.

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The balance between these facets is precarious and at times sorely tests the audience’s patience, with the band’s relative lack of communication a break from their usual verbal playfulness. At their ramshackle best, however, there’s a depth of emotion and style to their artiness that’s exhilarating.

Opening track ‘You Are Here’, from current album There’s A Riot Going On, is a case in point. An exercise in meditative inertia, each chord is played to the brink of boredom before a slight change is introduced: a touch more feedback, a wash of cymbal or gentle shake of bells.

In contrast ‘Dream Dream Away’ is the point at which they diverge from Low in their appreciation of The Velvet Underground’s self-titled album. Given their obvious influence it’s little surprise when they encore with ‘I Found A Reason’, on which Kaplan and Hubley’s harmonies form an oasis of hushed calm.

The absence of drones or surplus noise on the acoustic track draws into sharp focus its prettiness, and also the simple pop heart that beats at the centre of Yo La Tengo’s contradictory chest.