Review by Chloe Gynne with Photography by Cath Dupuy

There’s a unique charm to Yo La Tengo, one they’ve possessed throughout the full span of their decades-long career, and is evident as ever on their latest album, ‘There’s A Riot Going On’.

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In the first of two sets tonight, the focus is on that new album, and that charm is on immediate display. The trio amble on stage, awkwardly grab their respective instruments and get to work. Combined with the pindrop silence of a full Royal Festival Hall, it comes off as shy, or maybe even unprepared at first- but it quickly becomes clear that’s not the case.

Instead, the spotlight is on their exceptional musicianship. They barely speak to the crowd in this first hour, instead watching each other as they work together to create a wall of quiet sound, which washes over the venue, a throng of post-work indie kids old and young, sheltering from the blistering sun outside.

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There’s an odd atmosphere in the hall for the first few tracks. The formality of the whole crowd being seated brings with it a natural hush; nobody talks and few are running out to grab beers. It means the focus must only be on the band, who are simply doing their thing, seemingly without care that a throng of people are observing (Ira Kaplan, however, will later thank the audience for showing up, “because it would be awkward if nobody did”). It means that moments out of the ordinary are -sometimes comedically- amplified, like during ‘Ashes’, when Kaplan shuffles back and forth the stage every now and then, just to tap on a cymbal.

Between songs, the band swap stations, slowly manoeuvring their way around the impressive array of instruments that litter the stage. Each song fades out slowly, giving way to a few moments of freestyle performance, rich in feedback and experimentalism. The crowd, quiet and absorbed, is simply a voyeur to a masterful band in action.

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The second set is more of a greatest hits session, including the sublime ‘Lets Save Tony Orlando’s House’, a highlight of the night. It quickly feels more appropriate to cheer a little louder; the band respond by upping the pace to fit the changing mood.

It’s with ‘Deeper Into Movies’ that this starts to feel more like a Friday night rock show. Kaplan drowns the venue in feedback, his signature guitar sound reverberating perfectly in this room. The band seemed to ease into the crowd near the end; in fact, Kaplan even passes his guitar down to the front row during ‘I Heard You Looking’, to the envy of the rows above.

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Of course, no Yo La Tengo set would be complete without a cover or two. The band deliver in the encore, especially during a cover of Television Personalities’ ‘Part Time Punks’, refreshingly upbeat and joyous.

This is an event of three distinct parts, but Yo La Tengo themselves are a trio so connected to each other, so able to craft a world within themselves, that the crowd can do nothing but sit and watch in awe.

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