Yo La Tengo

17 songs— one for each year Belle & Sebastian have neglected to play Pittsburgh during their prolific career, until now. On a warm Saturday night, Stuart Murdoch brought his troupe of Scottish musicians (I counted 13 in total: four string players, three multi-instrumentalists, two keyboardists, drums, bass, guitar, and Murdoch himself) to Stage AE outdoors, with the audience packed to hear just how the band would translate its immaculately arranged twee-pop to the stage.

Amazing well, as it turned out. Over two hours, Murdoch played the ultimate bandleader, introducing each member individually and telling jokes and stories between each song (excitedly listing off all the Pittsburgh facts he memorized pre-show). Because it was the first time they gave a concert in the Steel City, Murdoch declared that, rather than just playing the hits or the new material, the band would perform a survey of their material. In fact, more songs stemmed from their 1996 debut Tigermilk than from their most recent album, 2010’s Write About Love.

And despite the fact that the three songs I most looked forward to hearing live were ignored in the set (Dear Catastrophe Waittress’s title track, opener “Step Into My Office, Baby,” and closer “Stay Loose”), it was impossible to pout when B&S brought out their personal favorites to share with the crowd. “I Want the World To Stop,” an odd but energetic tune from WAL, turned into an extended jam, contrasting brilliantly with “Lord Antony,” a slow, melancholy number performed just two songs after. “Lord Antony” should receive special mention as one of the highlights of the night, beautifully done with the full force of the strings and horns at Murdoch’s disposal. Benefiting from the best audio balance I’ve heard at Stage AE, B&S perfectly translated their fleshed out instrumentation, their more laid back songs receiving just as much attention to detail as their crowd-pleasing, upbeat ones.

And even before Murdoch invited a large handful of audience members to dance onstage for two numbers (“The Boy With the Arab Strap” and “Legal Man”), the concert reached its true pinnacle for a wild and extended performance of “Your Cover’s Blown,” an obscure Talking Heads-goes-disco track from 2004’s Books EP. When the song hit its “Barracuda”-esque tempo jump, Murdoch jumped into the pit and wandered among the crowd, fireworks exploding in the background. And no, that last part wasn’t exaggerated— the Pirates game just next door ended in a victory and a large pyrotechnics display, possibly as a result of B&S’s full rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” earlier.

A successful night all around. Unfortunately, I failed to catch the opener Yo La Tengo, the famous Hoboken trio whose album Fade is one of my favorites so far this year, due to extenuating circumstances that also resulted in the lack of photographs of the night.  But between Murdoch’s infectious good nature, dance moves that even David Byrne might envy, and the clever and bright music of his band, Belle & Sebastian more than made up for that, and their long absence from the town, and every other gripe you could possibly have. I can’t wait to see them the next time they're able to make it to Pittsburgh— when I’m 35.

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Welp, now we know where Yo La Tengo comes from. Not, as we previously thought, from the stork or from Hoboken, but from an even more weird and disturbing world than New Jersey. The alternative rock band, as seen in this new video for the single "Ohm," comes  ether from a long complicated mathematical equation OR a magical world where free-roaming Ira Kaplans, Georgia Hubleys, and James McNews are captured, boxed up, and shipped out in bulk.

The music video for the best and most meditative song off their recent (and my personal favorite) album Fade, "Ohm" literally dives into a universe created by Simpsons/Letterman/Lil Bush writer Donick Cary and animated by Sugarshack Animation. It's Yo La Tengo's equivalent of Yellow Submarine, a surreal place where everything has a face on it, and a baby smoking a cigar knows his way around. You just have to watch to understand.

At the same time as our intrepid protagonist explores this wacky world, a student in a classroom attempts to solve the equation of "What Is Yo La Tengo?", something we've all had to ask ourselves at some point. Apparently, it's a long calculus problem that maybe I would have been able to solve had I taken a math class since high school, which I haven't. But you can still appreciate equation parts like [Ben E. King² - B.B. King] and [California Girls/(Beach Boys - Katy Perry - David Lee Roth)], which make sense to me, sorta.  If this isn't weird enough for you, the band is releasing this single as a shower curtain, so there you go.

Yo La Tengo is opening for Belle and Sebastian at Stage AE this Saturday, July 13. My greatest hope is that they will bring along their octopus-Volkswagen, and maybe give away free boxes of themselves at the show. You never know. A boy can dream.

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