A distinctive spectacle exists within the music realm that recently graced the Rialto Theater stage here in Tucson. It is one that is unmatched in its ability to unify the youthful and the aged alike, bringing the Rialto’s varied occupants together by the collective power of rhythm, lyric, syncopation, and harmony. This artistic force has captivated listeners across generations and created an intersecting line between adolescents and geriatrics. It is a force that goes by the whimsical name of Yo La Tengo.
Formed in 1984, Yo La Tengo consists of husband and wife duo Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, along with close friend James McNew. The New Jersey natives quickly made a splash in the fledgling genre of shoegaze, an effects pedal and distortion driven form of music that originated in England during the 1980’s. Persistence, energetic live performances, and an ability to write diverse song structures quickly granted the trio a sense of notoriety within the music culture.
Nearly three decades of musical evolution have made Yo La Tengo what they are today: a 13 album veteran of a band that has become a favorite of the true music connoisseur. Though the group has never broken into the mainstream, many popular musical acts that thrive today were more than likely, at some point, finding inspiration from one of hundreds of Yo La Tengo songs. They are Indie Rock Godfathers, the OG’s of American shoegaze, and trailblazers of underground music culture.
It is with this vast repertoire of experiences that Yo La Tengo took to the Rialto stage as a true monument to song. The band, all in their 50’s, began the evening with soft compositions of ballads from their latest album, Fade. The stage lights were dimmed, and wooden cutouts of trees were brought to the forefront in order to fashion a sort of makeshift organic setting. From the onset of the first note, the hush of the audience made it clear that Yo La Tengo had already begun to win the adoration of each and every one of the hundreds in attendance. Each of the bands members had separate opportunities to steal the show with their own vocals, yet what truly struck a chord with the glowing faces at the foot of the stage was when all three members harmonized with one another. It was a beautiful display of musical mastery that gave off a Simon and Garfunkel meets Death Cab for Cutie vibe.
After a brief intermission, Yo La Tengo discarded the organic setting and replaced it with brilliant lights and large amplifier stacks that informed the crowd it was time to take the evening up a notch. From here they began a more rock and roll oriented set that displayed their ability to shift and mold various genres of music. If any members of the audience were beginning to feel fatigued with the coming of the ten o’clock hour, this put an end to it. It was nearly impossible for a body to be present within that building without dancing to the beat, singing along with the infectious lyrics, or cheering on 56-year-old Ira Kaplan as his fingers produced whaling guitar solos while lifting his instrument over his head.
The day that Yo La Tengo finally calls it quits will be an emotional one. It will leave a gapping hole within the music world that has taken 30 years to fill. But they will not go unremembered, or uncelebrated. Music enthusiasts will always have their memories of nights like May 6th, 2013, at the Rialto Theater. Their memories of the luminous lights, the possessive sounds of song, and the encompassing feeling of rock and roll in its purest form, will endure. That is, was, and will always be what Yo La Tengo is all about.