Yo La Tengo
with Happy Flowers
The Cotton Club, Atlanta, GA • March 25, 2000
Roi J. Tamkin
“Ice cream is better than having your eyes gouged out. I like ice cream with LSD!”
What have I just walked into? It was Happy Flowers, of course. The opening band featuring Yo La Tengo’s bassist James McNew on drums. I’m sure most people considered Happy Flowers a joke, but I thought they were for real. Guitar, bass and James on snare and floor tom. They didn’t sing songs so much as scream; they didn’t play music as much as free-form experimented with their instruments. The bassist rubbed his head into every instrument on stage, and at one point played the bass with his butt. Happy Flowers took a different approach to music. They tortured their instruments, the audience and themselves for thirty minutes. They sang songs the way toddlers invent songs to amuse themselves. They closed their set by pulling the strings off their instruments and throwing dollar bills in the audience as partial refunds. The bass player left the stage shamefully admitting, “Yo La Tengo will never have us open again.”
As discouraging as that was, the sold out show was redeemed when the Hoboken trio of Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew appeared on stage. Playing songs mostly from their new release, And Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out , and their previous full-length release, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One , the band had the audience absorbed in their pop sounds. In between songs, the devoted fans called out requests, but they maintained a respectful silence when the band played. Yo La Tengo successfully blended their bouncy pop tunes with slower, introspective selections from the new release. The trio moved around stage switching instruments, taking turns at the keyboards and letting Georgia come out from behind her drums to sing in her whispery voice. Despite releasing a CD that is slower paced, the live show is full of energy. When Ira played his guitar, he slipped into another dimension, joining with the spirit of Hendrix as he wiggled on stage forcing out those wailing notes.
All members shared singing duties, with Ira singing on the rocking tunes while Georgia handled the more sedate ones. Unfortunately, her voice got a little lost at the Cotton Club. James McNew sang lead on “Stockholm Syndrome” and shared a Motown-style back-up role with Ira while Georgia sang the sweet “You Can Have It All.” They encored twice. The first time they came out in Braves uniforms, all wearing John Rocker’s number. For the second encore they played “Sugarcube,” despite calls for “Speeding Motorcycle.”
I hope the Happy Flowers do get to open for Yo La Tengo again. Maybe some of YLT’s experience talent and professionalism will rub off on them. Well, considering the bass player tried to strangle his bass with his shirt, I honestly don’t think that will happen.