Yo La Tengo celebrated their 30th anniversary last Friday, playing Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club on the third night of a commemorative mini-tour that also included dates in New York and Philadelphia. The Hoboken-based trio regaled a capacity crowd with a two-hour concert that offered a timely opportunity to reflect on a remarkable career that is still going very strong.
After their longtime friends Lambchop set the scene with a superb opening set, Yo La Tengo kicked off their performance with “Ohm,” an apt manifesto for their signature sound and ethos. Ira Kaplan’s vocals conveyed an earnest sentimentalism as he and James McNew locked their guitars into a warm, churning drone that steadily built momentum over Georgia Hubley’s cadent drumbeats. The energy went up another notch during “Double Dare,” Kaplan’s dynamic guitar work punctuating the song’s shoegaze timbres.
The expansive set list delved as far back as “The Pain of Pain” from Yo La Tengo’s debut album, Ride the Tiger, while also featuring some latter-day favorites like the McNew-led “Black Flowers.” Showcasing their eclectic versatility, the band deftly ran a sonic gamut from the delicate folk balladry of “I’ll Be Around” to the soaring melodicism of “Decora” to the noise-spiked, free-jazz ostinato of the epic “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind.” Rarely played gems such as the gorgeous “Pablo and Andrea” more than made up for the exclusion of some beloved live staples like “Tom Courtenay” and “Stockholm Syndrome.”
Maintaining a loose, convivial rapport with the crowd, the band took in their fans’ adulation with characteristic charm and modesty. When audience members started an impromptu “Happy Birthday” sing-along, Kaplan cut it short with a joking reminder of the high royalty fees public use of the song might incur. Before the encore, he shared some unjaded reflections on the occasion: “These moments that we get to play together and play for you are so precious and important to us. I can’t believe we’ve been doing it this long. I’m so happy we’ve been doing it this long. I’m so happy you’re all here tonight. Thank you very much.”
As fans cheered, the band launched into the perennial crowd-pleaser “Autumn Sweater” before former Hypnolovewheel guitarist David Ramirez joined them for a cover of that band’s raucous “I Dream of Jeannie.” Finally, Hubley took the lead on a stirring rendition of Big Star‘s “Take Care,” as members of Lambchop returned to help close the festivities on a tender, evocative note.