Yo La Tengo @ Laforet Museum Roppongi (28th May '05)
The Life Aquatic With Yo La Tengo
I went to Enoshima Aquarium several months ago. While marvelling at its displays of underwater beauty, I passed by a small tank of lobsters. A few moments later two women walked by. One paused briefly to look at the crustaceans and exclaimed "oishii" to her friend.
As the lights came on at the end of Yo La Tengo's performance at Laforet Museum, Ira Kaplan thanked the audience for watching the band's "salute to sushi and sashimi." The only thing I could think about was the elderly female above. Although the trio's Sounds of Science film show in Roppongi wasn't intended to taunt hungry patrons, there is a slight chance it may have left a few mouths salivating.
In April 2001, the San Francisco Film Festival screened eight short films from famed French director Jean Painleve. They asked one of indie rock's most innovative acts, Yo La Tengo, to write and perform a score to accompany the documentaries. Christened Jean Painleve: The Sounds of Science, the group's live accompaniment to Painleve's explorations of ocean life was well received. The band enjoyed the experience and soon put out an album featuring studio versions of the compositions entitled The Sounds of the Sounds of Science.
Fast forward a few years to 2005. On tour in support of their recently released Prisoners of Love: A Smattering of Scintillating Senescent Songs: 1985-2003, the band book a few Japanese dates. As a special treat to fans, they decide to make one of their Tokyo gigs a Sounds of Science film show.
As the lights dimmed inside the spacious venue, seated audience members cheered in anticipation. The group walked onto the darkened stage and began playing as the opening credits rolled on the first of Painleve's works. Playing underneath a large screen, the band were barely visible as they turned out their ambient, instrumental soundtrack. The movies varied in length, but all were under 15 minutes and had subtitles in French, English, and Japanese. Utilizing drums, bass, guitar, organ, shakers, and a handful of other instruments, Yo La Tengo's excellent songs for Sea Urchins (French title, Oursins) and How Some Jellyfish Are Born (Comment Naissent des Meduses) helped breathe new life into Painleve's brilliant aquatic images. Creating music for movies is a difficult task, but Yo La Tengo's musicianship complemented each of the creatures' tales as opposed to overpowering them.
The pitch black venue and soothing shoegaze sounds caused several spectators in each row to doze off. Their rest was short lived though as the band kicked things into high gear for Liquid Crystals (Cristaux Liquides). Images of various chemical reactions caused swirling psychedelic colours to flood the screen. Georgia Hubley pounded on her drums while Kaplan grinded his guitar up against his amp. The loud distorted notes erupting from the speakers increased the effects of Painleve's mesmerizing shots. The fantastic rock music soon morphed into an equally compelling series of electronic bleeps and loops as the crowd witnessed a male seahorse give birth during The Seahorse (L'Hippocampe).
The event ended with Acera or the Witches' Dance (Acera Ou Le Bal des Sorcieres). James McNew took over drumming duties as Yo La Tengo's eclectic stylings meshed with molluscs' elegant movements in the deep sea. Entertaining and educational, the San Francisco Film Festival's idea to put the two influential and acclaimed artists together was a great one. Without being overly pretentious, the show allowed fans to witness a near-legendary underground act in a unique context. Definitely a cool night, it proved that like all good things in life, Yo La Tengo are getting much better with age.
report by shawn and photo by nachi
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