Night Falls on Hoboken, Part 2: Yo La Tengo in Berlin, March 13th 2013

on Apr 21, 2013
Our two-week-long celebration of National Arbor Day continues with a photographic stroll down recent-memory lane. Last month we had the good fortune to be on vacation in Berlin at the same time as Yo La Tengo were swinging through the city on tour. What does that have to do with Arbor Day? Well, if the cover of the band's latest album isn't enough to convince you that Hoboken's finest are a tree-friendly bunch, then witness their stage props...

A different tree for each member of YLT.
The band played the Volksbuhne, an architecturally imposing theater in Mitte, the center of Berlin. Having never been, we assumed the Volksbuhne would be a space like Terminal 5 or Irving Plaza, not a century-old national treasure. We also assumed there would be an opening act, and so we hung around sipping German wine in our hotel room until the new Pope was announced live on television. Thus, we walked in to muted capacity crowd, and took a seat on the stairs just inside the theater door. Ira, Georgia, and James sat close to one another not too far from the lip of the stage, playing quiet renditions of some of their favorites, including a gorgeous rendition of "Tom Courtenay."  They took their leave for a break not long after, and we lamented missing such a significant chunk of their set. It turned out we had little to lament.

Kaplan making some serious squall; Hubley and McNew keeping it cool.
Yo La Tengo played for the better part of three hours that night. There was the first set, the "quiet" set, followed by a "loud" set, followed by a sizable encore, followed by a second encore. There were hits, classics, and favorites. There was one fifteen minute jam followed by another fifteen minute jam, giving guitarist Ira Kaplan all the room he could want to  do some improvisational sprawling out. There was their cover of the oldie "Who Loves the Sun" so bassist James McNew could take a turn on lead vocals. Kaplan and drummer Georgia Hubley -- one of the most endearing of the enduring indie rock royalty couples -- played a hushed and beautiful "Center of Gravity" (which is possibly in every YLT fan's 'Top 10'), allowing them a chance to sing together.

Killin' the keyboard freakout on "Moby Octopad"
If Yo La Tengo aren't planning to retire soon, you could be forgiven for thinking that some of the signs point to 'yes'. Beyond naming their new album Fade, a thorough and engaging biography of the group was published last year. (How much does the band love barbecue? Possibly more than you think.) More or less indicative, the setlist that frigid March night at the Volksbuhne (not to mention the length of the combined sets) seemed designed to provide as cohesive a retrospective as possible while still keeping the on-stage energy vital and inspired. In the rare times he did speak, Kaplan at times seemed almost wistful. Mentioning how much they always love to play Berlin, he noted that they'd been coming to the city for twenty years. The city and the venue's own history (the Volksbuhne is located in what was the former East Berlin) gave the anecdote a touching significance: twenty years is about as long as any foreign band could possibly claim to have been coming to this part of Berlin.

Night falls on Yo La Tengo's departing audience in Berlin.
Even if Yo La Tengo seemed to be playing the Volksbuhne like it was their last show there, we're holding out hope to catch them in town again the next time we're in the Berlin area. Which will probably be in no less than another twenty years...

Happy Arbor Day!

Some more shots from the very back of the theater (naturally) follow, or you can go here for far superior pics of the show.