Yo La Tengo fandom is a labor of love. The adventurous diversity which makes the band's albums so captivating also wreaks havoc on its consistency. Never is this more apparent than in the live setting, where the group lives and dies by the setlist. Previous shows in St. Louis have seen the band lean too heavily upon ambient dirges or lengthy jams while avoiding the handful of classics the group's loyal fanbase seems to agree on -- songs such as "Sugarcube," "From A Motel 6" or "Autumn Sweater."
Last evening at the Pageant, Yo La Tengo's two-hour set drew from its expansive catalog, showcasing the multiple shades of its true colors. Seconds after the house lights dimmed, guitarist Ira Kaplan extracted the first of many submissive wails from his Fender Stratocaster. James McNew followed with elephantine bass squalls before he and drummer Georgia Hubley launched into an eleven minute rendition of noisy instrumental "And The Glitter Is Gone."
Before the opener's last chord had faded, the band transitioned to the serenely sweet "Let's Save Tony Orlando's House," the first of many instances where Yo La Tengo played with its own extremes. The band juxtaposed psychedelic rocker "Here To Fall" with piano ballad "Feel Like Going Home" and contrasted lullaby "When It's Dark" with the raucous "False Alarm." As per usual, the group's execution was nearly flawless. James McNew's vocals, which tend to sound forced on record, were proud and confident. Taking the lead on "Stockholm Syndrome," he channeled Neil Young while the band did their best CCR impression. Georgia Hubley was a tranquil diva on "Tony Orlando" and her solid-but-not-too-solid work behind the drum kit felt fantastic.
Maybe it's the guitar player in me and/or my affinity for feedback, but the show belonged to Ira Kaplan. The man loves to make noise, and was impressively expressive whether performing an exorcism of his pedals or attacking synthesizer keys like a flailing Muppet. Pre-encore set closer "Little Honda" served as a sort of greatest hits package of Kaplan's abilities. He inflected his mellow voice with a self-assured flair and led the band for two-and-a-half choruses of a guitar solo which milked the subtle overtones of a single bent note. The solo was interrupted - hence the half chorus - with an impromptu noise explosion as if the song spontaneously melted. The band gradually built the tune back up and reconstituted it, although the process could have been accomplished much quicker.
"Little Honda" was one of only a few instances Yo La Tengo went a bit too far off the deep end. Similarly, a chunk of the set's middle lulled with consecutive low key tunes. The band succeeded most swimmingly when striking a balance between its sweet melodies and jarring noise. "More Stars Than There Are In Heaven" was a hypnotic standout, a minimalist pop song resembling Sonic Youth covering "Only In Dreams" by Weezer.