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Five things we loved about Yo La Tengo at Union Transfer

By Christian Sarkis Graham

Hoboken-started indie rockers Yo La Tengo played to a sold-out Union Transfer crowd on Saturday. Here are some highlights and snapshots from the night.

A soothing soundtrack to tumultuous times

Yo La Tengo perform at Union Transfer.

Unlike the fiery, funked up urgency that a title like There’s a Riot Going On might suggest, Yo La Tengo’s 2018 release settles on a consistently and noticeably tranquil tone. Even for a band that’s built a 30-plus-year career on layering blankets of sonic texture over wistfully whispered lyrics. But after the first set, which heavily favored tunes from this markedly mellow new album, it seems that at times as charged as these, maybe a little musical Valium is just what the doctor prescribed.

Deeper into the music

Yo La Tengo perform at Union Transfer.

After the intermission break, the band took a welcome dive into their prolific and eclectic back catalog, rolling out spiky and blistering versions of “False Alarm” and “Blue Line Swinger” from Electr-o-pura, and stand-outs “Autumn Sweater” and “Sugarcube” off of 1997’s seminal I Can Feel The Heart Beating As One.

The covers

Yo La Tengo perform at Union Transfer.

Through the night, cover songs wound up taking as many setlist slots as tracks from any one of the band’s albums, apart from There’s a Riot. Tributes included Sun Ra Arkestra’s “Dreaming,” “Right Side of My Mind” by Angry Samoans and “Friday I’m In Love” by The Cure—the latter of which featuring the work of some local helping hands in the form of…

Kurt Vile

Philly’s grungy rambling man brought his sulky swagger to the stage for the Cure cover, and then helped wrap up the set with “Here You Are.” Vile’s signature wandering, twangy fingerpicking was the perfect flourish atop the gentle and minimal melodies of the two acoustic set-closers.

In this together

Yo La Tengo perform at Union Transfer.

By the time the encore rolled around, guitarist-vocalist Ira Kaplan solicited the input of noted “Guy in the Swans shirt,” for a request to wind down the show (“Detouring America with Horns”), in a refreshing reminder that despite some peoples’ ongoing efforts, democracy is not quite licked yet.

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