Yo La Tengo, William Tyler | Metro | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader

Yo La Tengo, William Tyler Member Picks Early Warnings (Music) Soundboard Recommended Critics' Picks

When: Fri., Feb. 4, 8:30 p.m. 2011

Few things protect market share like consistency, but few things erode a band's greatness like going on automatic pilot—is there anything more soul killing than hearing your favorite song played by robots? YO LA TENGO have gone from strength to strength for more than a quarter century, and changing things up has kept the band sharp. The New Jersey-based trio are quite capable of playing a balanced mix of oldies and new tracks, like a typical band, but in recent years they've performed an entire set of unreleased material at the Pitchfork Music Festival, masqueraded as a garage combo called the Condo Fucks, and taken audience questions and requests during largely acoustic evenings they call "The Freewheeling Yo La Tengo." The element of chance is made explicit on this tour: each night the spin of a game-show-style wheel will determine the format of the show's first half. Possibilities include a Condo Fucks set, a selection of songs starting with the letter S, a nonmusical performance of a sitcom episode, or excerpts from the score that the band composed to accompany screenings of Jean Painlevé's marine-wildlife documentaries. The second half could be anything else.

Though he's only 30, guitarist WILLIAM TYLER is an established presence in Nashville's underground music scene—he's played in Lambchop, worked as a sideman in Silver Jews and with Bonnie "Prince" Billy, and assisted producer Mark Nevers on albums by Bobby Bare, Candi Staton, and the late Charlie Louvin. He's also released music as Paper Hats, and under his own name he put out the superb 2010 album Behold the Spirit (Tompkins Square), a gorgeously meditative collection of stripped-down guitar music that reveals him as a disciple of John Fahey. Tyler's work echoes Fahey's not only in its fingerstyle virtuosity and experimental impulses but also in its mongrel vitality. His music is rooted in Americana—mostly old-timey and blues, with a bit of ragtime—but he thoughtfully enhances his pieces with drone workouts, buzzing field recordings, and streamlined, stately instrumental passages adorned with brass, strings, and electronics. The buoyant, tuneful "Missionary Ridge" winds down with a melodic snippet that echoes the folk standard "John Hardy"; the haunting sound collage "To the Finland Station," on the other hand, combines feedback, electronically obscured violin, and hiss-bathed choir recordings, yet it still sounds of a piece with his most direct fingerpicked material. The album wanders from the familiar to the strange, treating them both with elegance and care, and in the process conveys a distinctly American quality of searching.

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