Published on July 12th, 2011 | by Danger0
Yo La Tengo at Subterranean June 26, 2011
By Alex Danger Stewart
Can’t you see baby I’m just crazy for you. Love wheel spinin’
round, round, round, round”
What: Yo La Tengo Spinning Wheel Tour
Where: Subterranean in Wicker Park, Chicago, IL, America
2nd Title: In Which We Discover that Moby Octopad is Someone’s Name
Charlie O’Donnell was the announcer of Wheel of Fortune for 26 years (1975-1980, 1989-2010). He was the guy who said, From the Sony Pictures Studios, it’s America’s Game,” and then the crowd would yell, WHEEL OF FORTUNE!” You probably didn’t know his name. I didn’t know it. Knowing the name of the voice at the beginning of The $100,000 Pyramid and The American Music Awards is an obscure bit of information even for a jerk like me who takes pride in knowing obscure bits of information. The name of the beloved Wheel of Fortune announcer was an obscure bit of information that the members of Yo La Tengo knew all too well. This is not the least bit surprising because the members of Yo La Tengo are obscure people. I don’t think they even try to be obscure but it just exudes out of them like an odd New York Mets anecdote or the bridge to an old Kinks b-side. That their music is often so stylistically diverse is not an over thought determination. It feels organic. They like noisy songs and they like soft songs; they like punk music and jazz music; why not play songs that sound like all of those things? Of course Yo La Tengo would be game show enthusiasts. I can totally imagine them making sure that they finish band practice before Wheel of Fortune starts (in my town it’s on at 6:30pm). In my nonexistent script for a Yo La Tengo Saturday morning cartoon, the alarm clock in their practice space goes off and they throw down their instruments and rush over to the couch by the television. Georgia and James squabble over who gets to hold the pretzel bowl while Ira searches for the remote to turn up the volume.
We’re getting off track.
Yo La Tengo was/is familiar with the voice work of one Charlie O’Donnell and when he passed away in November of last year, they created what has proven to be one of the more lasting tributes that most people forgot/never realized was a tribute. Starting in January, The Spinning Wheel Tour traveled across the country playing a circus-like game of chance. At the beginning of each show a gigantic wheel was brought out on stage and an audience member called upon to determine the evening’s fate. It might land on Songs Starting with S, Condo Fucks, or The Freewheeling Yo La Tengo. I attended a concert in February at Chicago’s Cabaret Metro that found the wheel landing on, Sitcom Theater,” and had the band acting out an episode of Seinfeld. The tour proved popular enough be extended through the spring and brought Yo La Tengo back to Chicago. That’s the reality that I found myself in on the evening of June 26. You’re all caught up.
To put things inelegantly, Subterranean was packed to the nuts with people. There weren’t any chairs on the main floor which is good because things were very clearly standing room only. If someone had farted 300 people would have smelled it at the exact same time. What I’m trying to say is the club was full. The packed status makes sense. YLT had sold out the comparably larger Metro in February and the Green Music street festival (at which the band headlined on the previous evening) had been going on around the corner on Damen Ave all weekend which gave the event maximum street traffic advertising and put a larger number of the sort of people who would like to see a Yo La Tengo concert relatively close by.
On to the performance!
The all important wheel was brought out with some fanfare and a young woman called Jessica was selected to spin it. She gave the infernal contraption a good solid spin that befitting to the significance of the….I really can’t write floridly about this. She spun a wooden wheel and it landed on, The Name Game,” thus determining that the band’s first set would consist of songs with a name in the title (of which it has many).
It’s a clever conceit that allowed for a fairly diverse set of songs from across the band’s very long career (did you know they’ve been playing for 27 years? That’s crazy!). Opening with the hymn like coo of Electr-O-Pura’s Paul is Dead,” they ran through a set of songs that had as little in common sonically as they did similarity in title. The 2nd half of the set saw some very interesting news for those who were dorky enough to notice. Following the fantastic Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House,” (from 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out) and, Barnaby, Hardly Working,” (1990’s Fakebook) we discovered that Moby Octopad is the name of a person! For real. I always thought that it was the name of some old Japanese synthesizer, but according to laws of the Yo La Tengo universe there is a tax form that reads, Octopad, Moby.” I find that hilarious.
Unfortunately I don’t have a great deal to say about the performances themselves. Yo La Tengo is a notoriously consistent live band. Even more importantly, that level of consistency is set somewhere around or above, Very good.” I suspect that the subjective qualities of their performances are largely based on how well the set list aligns with the group of songs that one has an emotional connection to. The group must have been in a mid 90s sort of mood because a surprisingly large number of songs came from Painful and Electtr-O-Pura. There was even a song from New Way Hot Dogs (that was 1987)! I think this was largely because they saved their more recent and best known songs for the larger and less familiar outdoor crowd the night before. The sound at Subterranean has a reputation for being pretty muddy but YLT’s long time sound man did a good job of dealing with the long, narrow room and keep things clear and powerful. So powerful that when the band got into their fuzzier songs the floor would often shake and remind me of this classic Onion article
For the encore the band took the stage with Chicago musicians Mark Greenburg (The Coctails) and Rick Rizzo (Eleventh Day Dream and the newly minted Candy Golde) to unearth the rarely played, My Heart’s Reflection,” (off of Electr-O-Pura) and an endurance testing cover of Velvet Underground’s Sister Ray.” I don’t think it is uncomplimentary to say that Sister Ray,” was difficult to make it through because their rendition of it was every bit as painful and trying as the original recording. It takes a lot of guts to play a 17 minute song so faithfully after nearly 3 hours of performance so I commend them for hurting my knees and ears.
Here’s one issue I have. What is up with people talking incessantly at concerts? I understand when it happens at bars and neighborhood festivals where people do often primarily go to socialize. Not at concerts. This show sold out at least 12 hours before it started. That means there were no tickets sold at the door. Not a single person in that room had been walking around outside, noticed the sign, and thought, Oh okay, I guess I’ll go to that.” It was completely filled with people who knew about it beforehand, decided they would like to see Yo La Tengo play, and ordered tickets. I don’t understand it. Do people really pay $25+ to stand around and socialize with their friends instead of paying attention to the band? Is that how it works? I mean, apart from the rudeness that just strikes me as a terribly inefficient use of money. If they only want appealing background music, 4 people could get a case of beer and put a record on in their living room for about a fifth of the cost. Plus they could hear each other without shouting.
Luckily the crowd was pretty good at hushing those chatty assholes during the quiet songs but it was a job that required constant policing. Why do people have such an issue with being quiet and listening for more than 20 seconds? I don’t mean this to read as sexist because I know men were probably talking too and the frequencies of higher pitched voices tend to cut through the environmental noise more thoroughly, but young women need to shut the fuck up. Seriously. Stop talking. Talk between songs if you have to but otherwise shut your fucking mouth and appreciate what you’re there to experience. I have no explanation for the preponderance of conversation. Maybe there were a lot of girlfriends who had been dragged along by their YLT loving boyfriends. If that was the case, I have to ask two questions to those guys. Why would you make your girlfriend go to something that she clearly doesn’t enjoy? For that matter, why don’t you have a girlfriend who likes Yo La Tengo? Seriously. It’s awesome. You should try it. No matter what the explanation, there was a chatty bitch in a hippy headband who I came very close to stabbing in the neck with my keys. Not cool, headband lady. You’re on my list.
The Spinning Wheel Set: The Name Game
- Paul is Dead
- Avalon or Someone Very Similar
- Song for Mahila
- Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House
- Barnaby, Hardly Working
- Moby Octopad
- Tom Courtenay
The Normal Set
- Cherry Chapstick
- Little Eyes
- Periodically Double or Triple
- The Weakest Part
- I’m on My Way
- From a Motel 6
- The Story of Jazz
- Double Dare
- Blue Line Swinger
- My Heart’s Reflection
- Sister Ray (VU cover)
Or visit their website to get all kinds of YLT information