The Lineup


Yo La Tengo

Hoboken, N.J.

Most likely having just passed some milestone or another, Yo La Tengo have consistently been making totally excellent music since the early 1980s. With each subsequent album, tour, EP, single, one-off show, side project, half-acoustic lineup, film score or eight night Hanukkah run, they have changed ever so slightly, a million shades of one complex, rich band, into whichever version is scheduled to appear at Hopscotch. More than definitely, it will include Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan and James McNew playing rock ’n’ roll on an assortment of instruments. But Yo La Tengo are a restless band, and just because they haven't put out an album in a while doesn't mean they might not pull off something new and grand.

It probably won't be a table reading of a Seinfeld episode, which they did in Chicago last year, and for which they got booed; they did that already. Nor will the Sun Ra Arkestra likely show up, if only because they're not likely going to be in North Carolina. Probably Jon Glaser and Jon Benjamin won't come out as Soundtracapella in the middle of the set, either, though that did happen at the Cat's Cradle in 2004. They likely won't be making moody instrumental film scores to dreamy underwater documentaries, rearranging into the McNew-led Dump, or playing only audience requests of songs they specifically don't know how to play, either. Maybe they will, though: It depends who's around, what they've been asked to do, and what they feel like doing.

They've been doing just that under the "Yo La Tengo" banner since 1984 and in their current trio formation since 1991. Growing from the New York/Hoboken post-punk axis, they took some time to make themselves heard above the indie din. Starting as a low-key party band specializing in beloved and obscure covers, Hubley and Kaplan soon started to write their own songs. Based out of the Hoboken bar Maxwell's, where Kaplan worked as a soundman and Hubley DJed during the early years of indie rock, they have remained excited and vital parts of the music world around them, especially when they took on Charlottesville native James McNew.

Touring heavily, the band have made close ties in many cities, and the Triangle is no exception, with Kaplan occasionally acting as a Matador interloper at Merge Records' Mergefests or pulling Superchunk guitarist Mac McCaughan into one of their not-infrequent expanded lineups. Popular Songs, their most recent album, was released in 2009 to general happiness by hordes of frothing fans everywhere. It featured strings by soul-jazz arranger and one-time Sun Ra bassist Richard Evans, a few gnarly guitar jams, some sparkling folk-pop, a few heart wrenching ballads, great harmonies, and thoughtful and creative decisions at every turn.

With a deep and ever-changing repertoire, their live shows are very much the same. Going early might not change anything in the long run, but going often definitely could.—Jesse Jarnow