Yo La Tengo plays MoCA

If, on Saturday night, you weren”t out celebrating the Ephs” triumphant victory over the Lord Jeffs, and you weren”t on the phone with your mom explaining to her how to pick out her baby of the crowd of purple and gold on ESPN”s “College GameDay,” then you were at Mass MoCA, enjoying the sultry, spontaneous, and playful sounds of Yo La Tengo “Unplugged.” At least that”s where I was.

As I wrote about Yo La Tengo”s latest album (I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass) last fall, I was particularly excited for this show, largely because I had never had the chance to see them live before. Sadly, the opening act wholly disappointed. Upon entering the theater, I saw a single older man playing a guitar center-stage, and the first words that entered my mind were “tone deaf.”

Dredd Foole (real name Dan Ireton) hails from, according to the program, the Brattleboro area of Vermont. The program also mentioned that he was interested in “blues, reggae and folk,” which I strained to hear but could not make out in the slightest from his set of emo-reminiscent ballads. While Yo La Tengo later sang his praises, the audience did not. Though the crowd was generally respectful and appreciative, there were a few of those rude concertgoers that would intermittently yell out something discourteous and offensive. I had thought that I left the crude name-calling back on Weston field earlier in the day, but apparently not.

Luckily the musician took the heckling in stride, or pretended to ignore any complaints, and went on with his set. Good for him. I have found now, after listening to some of his recorded music online, that perhaps it wasn”t his style that was unfavorable after all, but simply that an acoustic setting just didn”t quite fit his music.

But on to the main act. This show has been hailed as a great new way to see Yo La Tengo perform. The band is already famous for never playing the same show twice, but now with the “Freewheeling Yo La Tengo Tour,” fans have a rare opportunity to see them in a setting more intimate and interactive than with any other tour since the group”s formation in 1984.

That said, something has to be explained about the title of “Unplugged.” While the band had a set-up certainly smaller than they would usually have, with just one acoustic, one bass and a small drum set, they were most definitely plugged in all over the place. Singer/guitarist Ira Kaplan apologized if they had deceived anyone, and said that to make up for the fact that they were not actually “unplugged” they would instead offer up a show that was completely spontaneous and interactive. Bassist James McNew jokingly reminded Ira to mention their no-refund policy on the tickets.

The close-knit atmosphere of the show was by far the best aspect. The band offered lively question-and-answer sessions with the audience between every couple songs, took requests, and told memorable stories of their 23-year career. It was a little bit “Storytellers” and pinch of “Unplugged” with a big helping of Yo La Tengo personality all rolled into one show. Band and audience were a family, and nobody minded when drummer/vocalist Georgia Hubley, on only the second song of the night, “Feel Like Going Home,” completely forgot what she was singing, started laughing hysterically and sang the line “I tend to lose my concentration.”

Audience members would yell out questions and comments, some being completely ridiculous, such as “Who”s the best dancer?” or “How about them Mets?” to which the band would just laugh, shake their heads, and say they would only answer relevant questions, and by “answer” they really meant they would take the subject of the question and go off on a tangent about some story or another.

At one point, Ira explicitly stated that there are some questions they just won”t answer, such as “Who is Mr. Tough?” (From a song of theirs by the same name). “We like to stay elusive as far as our lyrics go,” he said.

The show offered songs both old and new. Classics such as “Autumn Sweater” were met with appreciation, and garage-band hits off their last album such as “Mr. Tough” got the audience hooting and hollering. Definite highlights of the night for a first-timer were the unblemished sultry voice of Georgia Hubley, the spellbinding experimental guitar riffs of Ira Kaplan, and the hilarious side comments of James McNew.

This concert could have lasted for hours longer without a complaint from the fans. Even though the atmosphere was extremely relaxed, with sitting room only and quiet respect expected at MASS MoCA shows, everyone in the room had a great time, whether they were dancing in their seats or simply enjoying a night to unwind and listen to a favorite band. As Yo La Tengo goes, this was surely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend some quality time with Georgia, Ira and James.

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