A Sunday night in Glasgow’s Finnieston and a mixture of die-hard fans and the curious has gathered in hushed expectation for the Hoboken trio. “When will we be set free?” sings bassist James McNew at the conclusion of a cover of Jad Fair’s ‘Ashes on the Ground.’ It’s four songs in, and the audience finally feels it has permission to whoop. The tour is called ‘There’s a Riot Going On,’ but for the first few songs, so attentive was the audience and so hushed was the band that the click of the effects pedal could be heard ringing through the hall. No, not the expected wail of feedback, or the harsh discordant stabs or the sustained buzzsaw – the actual click of the pedal.
Singer / guitarist Ira Kaplan feels at home in Glasgow, he tells us later. His first words to the crowd are just before song #8. “It’s great to be back in Glasgow, I know it sounds like we say that everywhere…but we’re serious” He probably does feel at home, the SWG3 venue, an exposed concrete and brick ex-steel yard is now a hangout performance space that’s not dissimilar to East Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Steel, one of the early US stops on this tour.
The first set showcased the album, ranging from the understated instrumental opener and it’s melancholic lead line through the smooth doowop of ‘Forever’ and soft harmonies of ‘She May/ She Might.’ Lead vocals are shared among the three, Kaplan, drummer Georgia Hubley and McNew. Hubley takes the lead on ‘Ashes,’ lounge jazzy with husband Kaplan covering the piano and McNew on upright bass. The set ends with the album’s closer ‘Here You Are’ bookending things in response to opener ‘You are Here.’ This isn’t the only wordplay- the new album co-opts the title of Sly and the Family Stone’s 1971 classic. A move that is likely to be more about arbitrary feeling than anything else. Although, perhaps if there is a theme it’s in in the pop inclinations of some of the songs that echo Stone’s funk/bubblegum of ‘Runnin’ Away.’
The second set in contrast blasts the stage with ‘Out of the Pool’ and the young(ish) audience holds their ears in anticipation. But it doesn’t happen that predictably. Things calm down on ‘Before We Run’ and then ‘Autumn Sweater’ and ‘Tom Courtenay’ prove to be crowd favourites. Intensity builds in ‘Styles of the Times,’ the circular drum beat interplaying with Kaplan’s searing guitar runs. In ‘Sugarcube,’ he has his back to the stage with guitar hidden as he works the feedback. At one point he resembles a demented gardener frantically hand-sawing an obstinate branch, the massive sound that the three-piece make is in contrast to the early set. They end with Hubley on ‘Blue Line Swinger’ and another tumbling drum pattern over simple organ chords, her singing, deadpan and Nico-esque.
Yo La Tengo are known for their eclectic choice of covers. They frequently feature the work of The Beach Boys, Jackson Browne, Sun Ra, Velvets, Neil Young, Dylan and George McCrae. Tonight it is the latter, the encore sees the three standing in a line performing McCrae’s ‘You Can Have It All,’ together with The Only One’s ‘The Whole of The Law’ and The Shop Assistant’s ‘Safety Net.’
‘There’s a Riot Going On’ – the band’s first self-produced and engineered offering holds its own in a live setting so if you don’t know this band, starting here and working back wouldn’t be a bad thing, especially if you’re sawing wood at the time!