Yo La Tengo, the indie rock experimentalists hailing from Hoboken NJ, have returned with There’s a Riot Going On their 18th album, and first since releasing 2015’s Stuff Like That There. The 15-song collection clocks in at over an hour and assembles a series of improvised jams and languid recording sessions into a meandering journey through a dreamy and sometimes melancholy atmospheric sonic landscape. With their pastoral new release receiving favorable reviews, the trio have hit the road for a Spring trek across North America. The tour recently rolled into Cat’s Cradle for a two-night stand, and we were on hand for the opening night.
As fans filled the Cradle, they were greeted with the somewhat surreal scene of a crowded stage adorned with tape reels and vinyl albums hanging from the rafters. Without an opening act, the night was all about Yo La Tengo, and the trio of Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew used the time to ease into the evening. As the lights dropped, they took the stage with relatively little fanfare, and started off with “You Are Here,” the opening track from There’s a Riot Going On. The slowly building song saw James McNew sitting at the back of the stage to add some additional snare to Georgia Hubley’s syncopated drumming. It was the perfect intro to the evening, setting the pace for the set and cheekily announcing “You are Here.” From there the trio followed with another new song, “Ashes,” before reaching all the way back to 1996 for “Walking Away From You.” With the stage bathed in subdued lighting, the band followed suit, playing a set that mixed old with new while never straying too far from an almost languid atmospheric pace. They played through 9 songs, and ended the first half of the show with There’s a Riot Going On’s final track, “Here You Are.”
After a short intermission, Yo La Tengo came back to the stage and this time they brought the noise, starting off the second half with “Out of the Pool” followed by “Before We Run” from 2013’s Fade. With each new song, Ira started to let loose a little bit more, often hunching over as he coaxed equal parts melody, fuzz, and feedback from his guitar. Georgia and James watched Ira with admiring grins and a casual demeanor, belying their musical skill as they matched Ira’s pace. “Shades of Blue,” “Evanescent Psychic Pez Drop,” and “Tom Courtenay” all made appearances before they ended the evening with a colossal version of the vintage instrumental “I Heard You Looking.” After spending the evening in rapt attention and responding with energetic but slightly restrained applause and cheering, the crowd positively roared with approval as Ira, Georgia, and James saluted the audience and walked off. Despite having played another 10 songs in the second half of the show, Yo La Tengo wasn’t ready to call it a night, and they returned for a massive three song encore that included “Damage,” followed by two covers, “Frenzy” by the Fugs and the fitting sign-off for the night, Big Star’s “Take Care.” Having formed 34 years ago, Yo La Tengo could be forgiven for slipping into auto-pilot and coasting on nostalgia, but somehow, they continue to find new ways to do different things that indulge themselves and entertain their fans.