We were fortunate enough to witness Yo La Tengo do their thing a few weeks ago in Spain. The European leg of their tour “This Stupid World” included shows in the Netherlands, UK, Germany, Denmark, Ireland, Czechia and France and although their Barcelona gig sold out fast, we made it on time to get tickets for their show in Madrid. It was, in many ways, a holistic experience, a thematic journey with a rock concert along the way.
Taking place in The Warner Music Station – formerly the Estación Del Norte, a 19th-century train station that stopped being active 3 decades ago – the show had no opening act and it consisted of two sets. ‘This Stupid World’, their 17th studio album, was the protagonist in their play which also gave space to their history of exploring feelings through harmonies and rhythm. And of course, there was room for covers.
Opening with the namesake song off their new album, YLT simply set the overall mood for their first act with a crescendo that would later peak with the guitar distortions of ‘Sinatra Drive Breakdown’, a piece from ‘This Stupid World’ that’s morphing and reaching new heights during this tour.
Once ‘Tonight’s Episode’ started we were reminded not to forget the multitude of influences that can coexist in YLT’s music and we found ourselves reminiscing about The Doors.
The soothing ‘Ashes’, a perfect soundtrack for an oneiric road trip scenery, generated the initial good reactions from the audience, and it was the first one sung by Georgia Hubley. As usual, we’ll have many changes of roles on stage among the trio during their presentation.
Close to the end of the first half, Ira Kaplan made a joke trying to ‘clear the confusion’ and confirm that ‘tonight’s performance of We Will Rock You has been canceled’. Indeed, there’s a series of shows with that name taking place in the same venue, but it felt intentional that he said it right before the beautiful ‘The Ballad Of The Red Buckets’, and we started to get the sensation there is an arc our musical narrators have intended us on. On this path they explore noise and distortion to build up and expand the sonic spectrum through Kaplan’s guitar, but they also demonstrate it in a subtle way with an even meditative approach. The result is hypnotic, generating a transcendent feeling that this time chooses to explore inward territories.
The second act of the show proved to not be slowing down, with more strange synth layering, up tempo danceable tracks and perfect comedic timing from Kaplan – topped off with an epic guitar flip.
Our picks of the show? The otherworldly ‘Autumn Sweater’ with its almost pastoral vibe coming from Kaplan’s keyboard, which highlighted the contrast to the previous classic ‘Big Day Coming’; The way ‘Sinatra Drive Breakdown’ expands live and the instrumental spin downs close to the end of the show.
In a palindrome of sorts, both the beginning and end of Yo La Tengo in Madrid were acoustic. After starting with ‘This Stupid World’, they came back for an encore and finished with a cover of Velvet Underground’s iconic ‘I Found A Reason’ – isn’t that poetic?
‘This Stupid World’ finds the trio formed by Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew in good shape and an absolute communion with live performance. But isn’t it always like this with Yo La Tengo? Indeed it is, but in times when cold show business seems to be the unquestionable dogma, expressing the pure joy of jamming music feels like a breath of fresh air. That might be all we have in this stupid world.
Article & picture by: A. Sixta / Paranoid