Yo La Tengo played a fine gig at the De la Warr Pavilion last night, and one which seems to be getting better in retrospect.
It was excellent in parts – and transcendentally superb in places.
But it was hobbled by their chosen set structure and some of its longeurs left me looking at my watch.
They chose to play the first half mainly sitting down with acoustic guitars. When there were drums, Georgia Hubley used brushes on a cutdown set. The band's vulnerable and occasionally (and endearingly) wonky vocals high and exposed in the mix. When this approach worked best it was magical.
They opened with a beautifully poised and restrained take on 'Ohm', the first and finest track on the Fade album. There couldn't have been a better start: cutting away the album version's Krautrock chug brought out its glorious humanist lyric of loss and joy in living:
But nothing ever stays the same.
The stronger the wind, the faster we'll fly.
'Cause this is it, for all we know.
So say good night to me
And lose no more time:No time
Resisting the flow.
But, though it may be churlish of me, a full set of their restrained and sensitive side got to be a bit much.
And then, post interval, it was all the other way: full kit, churning guitar noise, vocals often submerged, your reviewer's ears ringing as he writes...
Again, that's obviously part of what I presume most YLT fans like about the band, but I wish they'd mixed it up a bit more.
Towards the end they came back to a different version of 'Ohm', which restored its chunkier muscles – and reinforced its claim on 'song of 2013' in my book. But, before that, they'd brought out the strength of some of the other songs on Fade which could easily be overshadowed. I was particularly taken by their surging rendition of 'Paddle Forward', which edges perilously close lyrically to 'Eden On The Line' territory:
Ship of fools,
We've come unmoored.
Riptide pulling,Pulling away from the shore.
But we feel safe inside,
Not a wave in sight.
Hang on tight.
There's still time.The water's fine.
It was a slightly odd, rather than rock-god, moment towards the end when he lifted his guitar into the air, held it away from him, touching it on his back and then leg, sustaining a fed-back chord. But then they're supposed to be the slightly nerdy bunch of rock fans next door. They are, in some ways, inheritors of The Velvets' mantle, but don't expect Lou Reed's monomania and 'just watch me now' conviction.
Why do I keep resisting the flow? It was a fine show.