Yo La Tengo show the Palladium that three is the magic number

Yo La Tengo delivered two restlessly inventive and technically astounding sets on Friday night

The first time Yo La Tengo played London, it was Dingwalls in 1987. It’s been some journey that’s taken the band from a rudely interrupted two minutes of squalling feedback on the banks of Regent’s Canal to over two hours of majestic indie rock at The Palladium. But if any band from indie’s formative years deserves to be in such opulent surroundings, it’s the Hoboken, NJ trio.

Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew now have almost 40 years under their belts. In that time, they’ve amassed an incredible body of work, running the gamut from fuzzy, hooky indie pop to sprawling, dreamy soundscapes. Both sides of the coin are represented tonight across two stunning sets.

The first leans into the aesthetics of the band’s two most recent albums, 2018’s There’s A Riot Going On and this year’s This Stupid World, as the trio play off each other with a mix of intuitive improvisation and technical precision. The latter’s opening track starts proceedings here too, building slowly into the pulsating ‘Another Episode’. Bar some diversions deep into their back catalogue – ‘Pablo And Andrea’ from 1995’s Electro-Pura, ‘Did I Tell You’ from 1987’s New Wave Hot Dogs – the band’s superb latest record provides the bulk of the list as well as the unhurried vibe. Kaplan, Hubley and McNew swap instruments frequently, finding an incredible number of combinations from just three people. Setting and atmosphere join seamlessly in a truly unique experience.

When Yo La Tengo return for the second set, things step up a gear, both in volume and tempo. Fan favourites ‘Double Dare’ and ‘Autumn Sweater’ prompt one punter to his feet, gamely trying to encourage others to join him. This year’s ‘Fallout’ sits so comfortably alongside them that you can only marvel at the band’s enduring, unwavering powers. An explosive rendition of ‘I Heard You Looking’ from their 1993 masterpiece Painful brings the curtain down and the audience to their feet.

The house lights briefly flicker on and back off again, as if some foolish soul thought that was that. It rarely is with Yo La Tengo, who come back for three covers, beginning with a rip-roaring take on Motörhead’s ‘Bombed’. Then Georgia Hubley joins McNew and Kaplan at the front for haunting versions of The Beach Boys’ ‘Farmer’s Daughter’ and ‘Yellow Sarong’ by The Scene Is Now. Heartfelt thanks and Yo La Tengo depart, leaving just the staggering realisation that these three people have a multitude of faces, all of them hugely impressive.

Header image: Cheryl Dunn