Yo La Tengo has been releasing much-loved indie rock since the ’80s, and while the band’s albums have been strikingly consistent, something interesting happened in February: The band dropped one of their best records ever. It’s easy to imagine that most of the other bands on Autopilot 17 were full-length, but the trio’s “This Stupid World” was a return to form that sharpened their craft to be more exciting than ever. Following the ambient work on the band’s experimental 2020 project “We Have Amnesia Sometimes”, “World” focused on the all-time guitar maniac from the opening track “Sinatra Drive Breakdown” and all the sneaky songwriting continued with catchy hooks. and the buzzing dynamics that YLT’s best writing has in common.
Their tour in support of the album, which hit Brooklyn Steel from NYC on March 18, gave new morale a boost in the footsteps of one of America’s toughest touring bands. Although the current setup—drummer Georgia Hubley, guitarist Ira Kaplan, and bassist James McNew—have been playing together since 1992, their improvisational spark seems to shine brighter with each round. There’s nothing quite as comforting as the quiet harmonies of the trio sharing vocal duties as they revisit the songbooks, whether on the chatty deep fiction “The Crying of Lot G” or “Fallout,” the first loud pop single from “World”.
After playing together for nearly 40 years, the band’s musicianship is just as sharp, with McNew’s percussion bass adding structure to Kaplan’s guitar and keyboard experiments. Meanwhile, Hubley is one of rock’s greatest drummers, constantly experimenting with rhythms, textures and sound. One of the defining sounds of the night was: crunch During songs like “Breakdown,” the snare drum hits Kaplan’s guitar hard.
With a third of the evening’s songs coming from “World”, it was clear that the crowd respected the new material as much as signature hits like “Autumn Sweater” and “Stockholm Syndrome” – no small feat for a band with a huge track record.
The only part of the evening worth tweaking was the two-set structure; the first is a journey through their quieter fare, and the second focused on their louder, more brash songs, which were interrupted by a break. Both styles of music tell the story of Yo La Tengo, but perhaps the traditional nature of playing slow songs in between a few fast songs would have served the audience better. As the first set progressed slowly, it dragged a lot of foot into the mostly standing crowd. If it had been a seated show, maybe it wouldn’t have felt so disproportionate, but the breakup didn’t quite happen.
Still, it seems silly to argue with any decision Yo La Tengo makes: They’ve been creating their distinctive music longer than most of the crowd have been alive, so it’s probably best to trust them.