A 2011 Yo La Tengo show in Chicago ranks fairly high on my List of Missed Opportunities. The incident in question was a stop of their “Spinning Wheel” tour, in which Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew brought out a large wheel onstage with a variety of options to land on, including but not limited to the self-explanatory “Songs Starting With S” and ‘I’d Like to Buy a Vowel”, which of course required the band to strictly play songs of theirs that began with a vowel. On the Chicago date, however, fate decreed the band would re-enact an entire episode of Seinfeld as part of “Sitcom Theater”: I still regret missing it (though chances are I stayed home and watched Seinfeld that night anyhow).
Tuesday night’s YLT show at the Boulder Theater lacked the Price Is Right theatrics of the Wheel tour in lieu of nearly three hours of music. The trio, who are approaching the three-decade mark as a band, began with a meditative acoustic set that leaned heavily on their thirteenth studio album Fade, released earlier this year. Fade has been called the indie veterans’ most “patient” and “disciplined” album, and the first set lacked in neither of these qualities, via down-tempo songs like “The Point of It” and “The Weakest Part”. Discipline took a back seat to spontaneity for the band’s electric set, with the band plugging in and playing great new cuts like “Is That Enough” along with staples like “Sugarcube” and “Last Days of Disco” and a rowdy encore rendition of Alternative TV’s punk anthem “Action Time Vision”, inspired by a crowd member with an Activision t-shirt.
Despite the easy distinctions between the two sets, what astounded me was how truly similar they were. Case in point: the night’s first song, Fade opener “Ohm”, was repeated for the electric set, with both renditions feeling perfectly natural and with neither outshining the other. Both performances displayed a group who, despite being a bit past their creative peak, perform on such a high wavelength of honed skill and comfort between musicians that the word peerless feels truly applicable.