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November 30, 1995 - Image 20

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The Michigan Daily, 1995-11-30

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10B -The Michigan Daily -Waet4 , te. -Thursday, November 30, 1995

- , 0 1 iiifii

Yo La Tengo goes to 'Camp' rock'n'roll style

By Alexandra Twin
Daily-Arts Editor
"Wonder if any one will show up,"
musedYoLaTengofrontman IraKaplan
tohiswifeandbandmate,GeorgiaHubley,
as they giggled over a misprint in the arts
sectionof a local Chicago paper. It had
reported their upcoming show as taking
place thenight afteritwas actually sched-
uled to occur. Despite the inconvenience
that this error would no doubt end up
causing,theformersmall-press rockcritic
was not annoyed, only amused.
Much like his wry, alternately cryptic
and devastating lyrics, Kaplan himself
$eems ready to tackle the everyday with a
houghtful blend of humor and skepti-
eism, and always with a grain of salt.
intentional or not, this approach has done
him well overthe band's ten odd-years of
existence.
To support their eighth release, last
April's "Electr-o-pura," the trio has been
ouringforagoodsixmonthssolidtouch-
ingdownattheirHoboken,N.J,homebase
for a mere three weeks between a season
of rowded to sold-out club dates, as well
as a stint on the second stage of last
summer's Lollapalooza festival. In a re-
cent interview from his hotel room in
Chicggo,the night before the afore-men-
tioned, incorrectly publicized Cabaret
#Metro show, the singer-guitarist proved
to be warm, friendly and admirably self-
reflective, despite suffering from an un-
derstandable case of fatigue that the long
days of touring had no doubt inspired.
"Most of what happens happens acci-
dentally," he said quietly. "We never
forceanything.Wejusttry to allow things
to happen."
What's happened most recently is a
new EP, the aptly-titled "Camp Yo La
Tengo," which features a few covers, a
fewpreviouslyunreleasedtracksandone
new track ("Don Ameche Plays the
Stranger")thatwas,reluctantly,leftoffof
last April's "Electr-o-pura." Of the song,
Kaplan says, "That was the one that we
were probably most sorry about it not
being on the record, but it got to a point
where if it (the record) got much longer,
it was going to require two albums and
almost two CD's. As we were making
different choices about what would make
up the body of the record, that one ended
up getting outed."
The "camp" in the album's title is as
much a reference to summer camp as to
the band's self-effacing good-humor,
which surfaced most recently in the hi-
larious 'what-if-we-opened-for-the-re-
united-Beatles' video for "Elect-r-o-
pura"'sfirstsingle"TomCourtenay." Of
thetitle,Kaplansays:"Theideajuststruck
me as funny. It (the EP) came out a little
later than camp season, but it just struck
me as a funny joke, the double meaning
...infact,thejokeprobablylastedlonger
than the album does, so it was timely and
funny, two good things for us."
Inadditiontothenew EP,the bandhas,
oflate seenasomewhatlargerresponseat
their live shows. "Although we're still
playing at the Blind Pig (the band played
here two weeks ago), so it's not like the
venues have changed so much, maybe a

few more people are coming to the show,
buttheresponsehasdefinitely beengood.
I'dsay that Lollapalooza definitely has
brought us more attention, of late, but
somewhat intangibly at times. There's
the people who saw us or heard of us for
the first time there and then there's the
people who merely know that we did it
and see it as, like, winning some kind of
award or something, I guess."
While he admitted to having been
geekedtomeettheJesusLizardandPoster
Children for the first time, and acknowl-
edgedthepotentialcommercialrepercus-
sions that a high-profile festival like
Lollapalooza could create, he found the
overall experience to be "never less than
strange. But strangeisnot a bad way to be.
The concerts have a much different feel-
ing aboutthem,the audiences,the time of
day that you're playing. There was some-
thing kind of energizing about showing
up, playing in the middle of the day and
moving on with no sound check. They
were long days and they were organized
in a very unusual way."
By contemporary expectations, what's
equallyunusual istheband'sapproachto
songwriting. "We don't like to rehearse
anything too much," he said.
Itis for this reason that theband's sixth
full-lengthalbum,"MaylSingWithMe?"
is to date, their least favorite. "Most of
thosesongswerequiteoldbythe timethat
we recorded them. I think we felt that we
had over-learned the songs by the time
that we recorded them. The process be-
came too much ofa document of what we
already knew so that the record was lack-
ing a certain life that it would have had if
we had been approaching the songs in a
different way."
Consistent,butneverstalwart,theband
is willing to leam from their misfires. "I
thinkthatwithalotofthings,wejustkind
of develop theories and stick with them
until they're proven wrong. After that
record ("May I Sing With Me?"), we
made a conscious decision not to write
and not to play the songs that we've
written live until they're recorded. Gen-
erally,we'vestuck tothat.Onthelasttwo
records('Electr-o-puraand 1992's"Pain-
ful'),by the time we got to the studio,the
songshadonly beenplayedonceortwice.
They were really new to us."
Yet, the songs often change in the
playing. "I think that that's another rea-
son that we've gotten comfortable not
writing new songs as we're touring. In a
way,weare writingnewsongs,we'rejust
doing it by changing the old ones. When
we do start writing new ones, they'll
reflectinawayhowtheoldoneswillhave
evolved."
Atheirrecentsold-out BlindPigshow,
the band played a fairly tight and engag-
ing set, drawing mostly from their last
two albums, but looking back a little
farther for the occasional crowd-tester.
With bassist James standing as the solid
ground between the ethereal and unusu-
ally moody Hubley and the always fran-
tic,emotionally-wrought(and frequently
closed-lidded)Kaplan, the band whirred
through asolid90minutes,evenbringing
out opening act the Pastels to encore with

a shaky, but endearing version of Daniel
Johnston's "Speeding Motorcycle."
While bands like the Pastels and
Stereolabareamonghisfavoritesubjects,
one area that sends the usually soft-spo-
ken Kaplan into something of a tizzy is
"the rock critic thing." Prior to forming
Yo La Tengo with Hubley and the first of
many bassists to come, Kaplan was a
music critic for a small paper in SoHo,
New York City. It's a topic that inter-
viewersfrequentlybring up. "I thinkthat
the band gets a little more attention be-
cause of it and gets taken a little less
seriously because of it," he said. "It af-
fected the band because it was part of my
life,buteverybody'slifeaffectstheband.
It's no more significant than James and I
havingpreviously worked in parkinglots.
In fact," he laughed, "that is really the
undiscovered influence on the band: It's
the parking lot connection."
All quips aside, the band has always
been recognized as having been deeply
influenced by the late, great Velvet Un-
derground. Live, and less frequently on
record, Kaplan's vocals tend to waver
between the melodic, the robust, and oc-
casionally the speak-sing mono-drone
often affected by the Underground's

Lou Reed. Kaplan acknowledges hav-
ing always been a big fan of the band
and cites this as Yo La Tengo's motiva-
tion for choosing to play the Velvet
Underground in an upcoming, contro-
versial film entitled "I Shot Andy
Warhol."
While Reed has publicly denounced
the film, Kaplan and co. were drawn to
the near-surreal possibilities in playing
the band whom they've always been
held up against; a choice that most
bands would probably shy away from.
"I think that we were attracted by how
perverse it was to play them, what a
"mistake" it was; if you're trying to
establishyourselfas individualstopick
the people whom you're most identi-
fied with and play them? It was such a
bad idea that we couldn't resist saying
'yes.
The band has branded serendipity as
their main staple of existence, and as -
fortheirnear or distant future,ifKaplan
knows, he's certainly not telling. "We a
just don't have a plan of what we're
doing next. Our big plan rightnow is to
be without a plan. That's how we're
comfortable. That's how we work best. lan Kaplan leads Yo La Tengo through an amazing set at the Blind
I don't like dealing in absolutes."

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Just a reminder that cramming for fnals will only do so much.

Get a good night's sleep.

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