Night 8, 12/8/10
A lot of people out there want to know what it’s like to be in a band. So here’s a little behind-the-scenes look at Yo La Tengo: When we get home from a month-long European tour on Monday, the only worthy cause we’re supporting on Wednesday is getting some sleep. But nearly as improbably as a Knicks six–game winning streak, The National came out to Hoboken to make Night 8’s celebration extra-spectacular. That’s just nuts, on every level. Tour manager extraordinaire Joe Puleo fine-tuned the menorah as they took the stage, and I joined them on the set-closers, “Afraid of Everyone” and “Terrible Love.”
I don’t think I’m capable of describing Marc Maron‘s set. If Apocalypse Now! had been a comedy? He may have literally hung up with 911 moments before going on and exploding our brains with his ruthless, hilarious self-examination. It was a lot like these shows in a microcosm — amazing from start to finish, and I couldn’t wait for it to be over!
The day I saw Renaldo and Clara at the Bleecker Street Cinema, a fellow cineaste turned to his buddy during intermission and promised him that all the loose ends would be tied up during part two. In similar fashion, we attempted to dot the i’s remaining after the first seven nights. Accompanied by Hamish Kilgour, we opened with, what else, “Night Falls on Hoboken,” continued with, what else, “Eight Days a Week,” and then meandered through the as-yet-unplayed YLT songbook: “Deeper Into Movies,” “Tired Hippo,” “Gentle Hour” (our contribution to the Bryce and Aaron Dessner-compiled Dark Was the Night) and “Madeline,” stopping along the way to have Hamish sing the Clean’s “What Ever I Do” and the Mad Scene’s “Sweet Dreams” (taking advantage of the availability of frequent Mad Scene guitarist, Georgia) . . . not to mention Hamish’s special request: Georgia singing “Walking My Cat Named Dog.” We ended the set as a trio, with “Blue Line Swinger” and “Our Way to Fall.”
We opened the encore with Joe Puleo’s award-winning Peter Wolf imitation of the opening to “Pack Fair and Square,” then asked WFMU pledge drive co-conspirator Bruce Bennett to help us out on the rarely more apropos “I Can’t Stand It.” We finished things up as a trio, with two equally fitting numbers: Randy Newman’s “We Belong Together” and LSD‘s “Love Power.” I had the notion that it would be fitting to perform the latter song just as Dick Shawn did in The Producers, i.e. while crowd-surfing. Thanks to everyone who kept me aloft, and/or softened my fall while dropping me! I will say that while fearing for my life I may not have clearly stated my message which is:
Thanks more than we can express to Joe Puleo, guitar tech Gil Divine, barista/sound engineer Mark Luecke, and girl about town Suzanne Despres. They worked their tuchuses off to make these shows the success they were, and if we could have done them without their help, I’m hopeful never to put that to the test. Todd Abramson and everyone at Maxwell’s made us feel so at home, and seemed so happy to see us night after night after night. It really went a long way toward navigating those moments when we couldn’t share their enthusiasm. Stephen Hunking designed two more amazing t-shirts (and contributed some photos to this endeavor). Tannis Root printed those shirts for free. Liz Clayton took most of the photos and always made us feel good when she was around. But it’s wrong to single her out in that regard, because all of the people who took part — performers, friends and audience members alike — are what made this whole thing more than worth it. And a personal thank you to Janice Headley for helping me through the rough spots of getting this thing online.
Night 8’s mix CD came courtesy of Joe. We donated the proceeds between City Harvest and Transportation Alternatives. See you next year? We’ll figure that out some other time. Right now, we wish you a merry beunos noches and a happy bon soir!
Night 7, 12/7/10
The penultimate night began with a breathtaking set by Bonnie “Prince” Billy and the Cairo Gang. It reminded me of Fairport Convention, the Band and the Grateful Dead — if none of those bands ever played an uptempo song — combining to perform a slow burn of a revival, no speaking in tongues necessary. “Trust your brain, trust your body,” sang the self-professed Scrooge, but shows like last night’s, not to mention the very act of taking part in our series, will ensure that no Xmas ghosts will be bothering him anytime soon.
We were very fortunate to have Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler on our very stage, not only because they were hilarious, but because they classed up our rock ‘n’ roll show with a history lesson about the true inventor of the telephone, a dramatic reading of an exciting new play (The Taintalogues — maybe I won’t search for a link for this one), and some fine art before crowd-surfing into the night.
It’s been said that the triple is the most exciting play in baseball, and we decided to put that theory to the test, after a fashion, with our third member of Wilco to sit in with the combo. Nels Cline took the stage with us and left the stage with us, knocking us out on numbers rehearsed and unrehearsed alike. He was dazzling throughout, so I’ll just name a few: Carole King’s “Wasn’t Born to Follow,” “Serpentine” from New Wave Hot Dogs, and our Ernest Noyes Brookings collaboration, “Artificial Heart.” It was during that last song that James toppled our electric menorah, so if you’ve got any spare bulbs lying in a drawer, don’t hesitate to bring them tonight.
Night 7’s encore began with a brief overview of the Ramones and Judaism: “Pet Sematary” (co-written by Daniel Rey) and Joey’s “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker.” Then Bonnie “Prince” Billy and the Cairo Gang joined us for an appropriate in every possible way “Heavenly Arms.”
Night 6, 12/6/10
When we put together these shows, we are flat-out shameless about who we ask to play. We’re willing to hear a dozen deflating no’s, because how else are you going to get that one surprise yes? And there was no bigger or more welcome surprise of 2010 than Mofungo agreeing to reunite for Night 6. Last heard from at least 16 years ago, which would also be the last time Robert Sietsema played his bass guitar, they didn’t sound remotely rusty. I made the unusual decision of looking at their set list in advance, and I’m glad I did — instead of wondering when they’d get to “No Paseran” and “#1 for Take-Off” and “Our Days of Weakness Are Over” (they wouldn’t), I was right there in the moment for the 10 songs they brought back: “Ronnie Thinks He Can Rock and Roll” (with Georgia on guitar), “Lemmings,” “Three,” “Deportee” (with Sue Garner singing) and all the rest. We thank Mofungo and thank them again. The only sour note was their attempt to convene the classic lineup of Sietsema, Willie Klein, Chris Nelson and Elliott Sharp hit a medical roadblock, and old pal Rick Brown was enlisted to fill in for Chris. Get well soon, Chris!
We’re getting a bit loopy, and we’re nobody’s idea of tight, let alone our own, but crazy, unexpected things keep happening, and that’s my preferred spelling of Hanukkah. We did a grand total of one song as a trio last night, the opener “My Heart’s Reflection,” before bringing up Tara Key for the next three, my favorite being our dual guitar freakout on “Stockholm Syndrome.” After that, we traded one of our oldest friends for one of our newest: Mikael Jorgensen of Pronto and Wilco played piano and organ for the rest of our set. I particularly loved hearing the piano part on the Left Banke‘s “She May Call You Up Tonight” and the organ on our revised “More Stars Than There Are in Heaven.” While “Little Honda” roared on and on, I decided to check out the guitar chops of some of the front row.
Hanukkah scholars continue to debate the New Year’s Eve 2005 version of “Red Rubber Ball” in which, among other highlights, Amy Rigby attempted to put a capo on Wreckless Eric’s guitar midsong to effect the third-verse modulation. It’s alluded to in her recent song, “Do You Remember That” and it’s been high on our Wrongs To Be Righted list ever since. With Eric and Amy in town, last night was the night. I hate to toot my own horn, but we nailed it (and threw away the lyrics, so we’re never tempted to play it again). Then Eric and Amy came up and we backed them on “Do You Remember That,” a holiday classic from their latest record, P.F. Sloan‘s “I Get Out of Breath,” and — we’re not made of stone, people! — “Whole Wide World.” We closed the night by inviting Mofungo, Tara, Mikael, and even the guitarists from the front row to take part in a singalong of the late, great Tuli Kupferberg‘s “Nothing.”
It was my turn in the mix cd chair, and we split the proceeds among some of our favorite arts groups: the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation, Arts for Art, the Elevator Repair Service, and the Provincetown International Film Festival’s Campaign to Purchase Whalers Wharf (or as it’s better known, the PIFFCTPWW). Photos once again courtesy of the tag team of Clayton and Hunking. See you tonight.
Night 5, 12/5/10
Spoiler alert: There’s gonna be bloodshed in this entry.
Hanukkah’s back four opened in murderously fine fashion with pow!, biff!, kapow! Mission of Burma. That’s right. Undeterred by Peter Prescott’s bicycle accident (and don’t think that I am not feeling some remorse that he appears to have paid too-close attention to “Periodically Double or Triple”), they opened with “Nu Disco,” bloodied us with some brand-new songs, and finished us off with five covers in a row, not a Jew in sight: “N.S.U.,” “Seven Deadly Finns,” “I Don’t Mind,” “Youth of America” and “Class War” (link NSFW!). Oh man.
Making his Hanukkah debut, we had star of the tv, Wyatt Cenac, who began his set by caressing the television hand that feeds him, before moving on to amazing and hilarious discourses on, uh, a nigger cat jumping in and out of a box, and a spirit-of-Christmas visit to prison. Not to mention an endorsement of that neighborhood restaurant, Chili’s.
We asked Mission of Burma’s loopmesister Bob Weston to sit in with the band from the soundboard, and located some more songs from the not-yet-played pile, including “The Empty Pool,” produced for long player in 1986 by Clint Conley, and “Nowhere Near,” which Georgia dedicated to the great Jack Rose on the anniversary of his passing. I’d like to blame the tight quarters of Maxwell’s for my bit of stagecraft following “I’m Your Man,” but that would be dishonest. I’m going to have to look in the mirror to assess the blame — and when I do, I’m going to see the small gash over my left eye that I obtained . . . switching guitars. Sheesh, someone needs to return to Rock School. We closed with “Mushroom Cloud of Hiss.”
We started the encore with a very special guest, Jason Koffman, who “won” the chance to sing “Astral Plane” with us by virtue of an extremely generous donation to WFMU during their September eBay auction. Roger Miller supplied Jerry Harrison-isms, and Jason took care of the rest. Great job! With two/thirds of the Volcano Suns on hand, we weren’t going to pass up the opportunity to do one of their songs, “Cover” to be precise. Then we sent Bob back to his loops, brought back Roger, handed Clint a guitar and went back to the Jewish songbook for Pep Lester‘s “Ben Wa Baby” and the Fugs‘ “Frenzy.” We closed the night with Dredd Foole’s “So Tough,” and why not, as we had 3/4 of the original Din in the house (James grabbed one of Peter’s drum sticks to man the “bass (sic)”). Then we hit the ice packs!
The mix cd was provided by James. (And this seems as good a time as any to mention that Night 4’s mix was from the Numero Group. And that Night 4’s charity was Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health. Maybe I should have hit my head harder!) We split Night 5’s proceeds between the International Rescue Committee and Partners in Health. Stephen Hunking, who designed the super cool t-shirts that we’ve been selling, took some of these photos, in addition to our regular Weegee Liz Clayton.
Night 4, 12/4/10
The Hanukkah shows are pretty much all-consuming for us, so it’s a particular mitvah when I get to cross something off my to-do list. But there you go — Item #16: Before I die, I want to hear Syl Johnson turn his classic song on its head and sing, “Is it because I’m Jewish.” Done! Backed impeccably by an eight-piece band led by J.B. Flatt, Syl blew it up real good. What else needs to be said? Don’t forget to put this one on your gift-giving list.
Acts who perform at Hanukkah frequently ask if they are required to acknowledge the holiday in any way. Our answer is it’s not necessary. But that doesn’t mean we weren’t thrilled when Jon Glaser proffered an appearance by Rabbi Attitude. Will anyone admit to believing that Jon had a talking cat? We’ll keep it between us. Nice Jewish intro and outro music too!
Our set included such rarely called-upon numbers as “Everyday,” “The Cone of Silence,” “Winter A-Go-Go” and “Out the Window,” along with some holiday cheer (“She’s My Best Friend,” “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You”). I list more songs from the set list than usual, because it’s likely that the encore knocked all that information from your brain.
First came “Jon,” star of Delocated, surprisingly sanguine that he wore the same shirt as Rabbi Attitude, on hand to sing “Autumn Sweater.” Then I was able to cross another item off my wish-list (Item #43: Have a Hanukkah guest who has appeared on the Joe Franklin Show) with the appearance of Mr. Peter Wolf! Another first: sharing the stage with someone I saw at the Fillmore East. We played “Ain’t Nothing But a House Party,” “I’ve Had It” (last played by us at Hanukkah 2007 with Alex Chilton) and “Pack Fair and Square,” dedicating the whole shebang to our late mutual pal Billy Ruane. I’m still not quite sure I believe that wasn’t another bit by Rabbi Attitude. But there was no time to prove otherwise, as we had one more very special guest. Sitting in with the band for the third time, none other than my mom. Once again, she took no prisoners with her rendition of “My Little Corner of the World.”
This is my happening and it freaks me out. See you tonight.
Night 3, 12/3/10
When asked to consider donating last night’s proceeds to the Elysian Charter School of Hoboken, our response was the classic improv gambit: Yes and… Would their chorus sing some of our songs? Small technicality — there was no Elysian chorus. I went full Tom DeLay on them and suggested maybe it’s time to form one. So they did! Led by Aram Rubenstein Gillis, who is now my pick for managing the 2011 NY Mets, the kids brought the house down with “Stockholm Syndrome,” “Sugarcube” and “Mr. Tough.” Turning them into the Ex-Lion Tamers to our Wire, our set included none of those songs. (And may never again!)
That was certainly a tough act to follow, but luckily we had the right man for the job, even if Jeff Tweedy did feel compelled to publicly end our friendship from the stage. You never knew what song was going to come next, and it was a particular thrill to feel the gasp of excitement from the packed room with the opening bars of each selection. If you know one thing about me, it’s that the way to my heart is a cover song, so I was especially happy to hear Jeff do Linda Thompson’s “Sometimes It Happens,” even when it turned our old pal Neil Innes had nothing to do with the song.
Eugene Mirman is not afraid to ask the tough questions. Like how would Alvin react to learning he was HIV-positive. Like why don’t Twitter feeds come with theremin soundtracks. Like why don’t more machine guns have toes. He’s a truth seeker, Eugene is, and we were lucky to have him on our stage.
We patched things up with Jeff backstage and he sat in with us for the first half of our set. If a cover song is also the way to your heart, you came on the right night, as our quartet took on Gary U.S. Bonds’s Hanukkah appropriate “Eight-Day Weekend,” Phil Ochs’s “Chords of Fame,” Dylan’s “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later),” the Coasters’ “Shoppin’ for Clothes” and Wilco’s Hanukkah inappropriate “Jesus, Etc.” (though I’ll have to check the manual to see if that last one counts). For all that, I was never more excited than when Jeff was adding atmospheric noise to “From a Motel 6.”
We devoted Night 3’s encore to paying tribute to Alex Chilton. We started with “Windows Hotel,” then brought up Kid Congo for “Strychnine,” from the Alex-produced Songs the Lord Taught Us. We deviated slightly from the program for “Drug Train,” then went back on message with “I’m Cramped.” Gil Divine would never have spoken to us again if we didn’t do a Gun Club song. Despite this tantalizing prospect, we closed with “For the Love of Ivy.”
Thanks to Brian Turner for providing the night’s mix cd, clearly not holding it against us that I didn’t include him in the litany of FMU dj’s during Night 2’s “Roadrunner.” In the Hanukkah game, we call that being a mensch. See you tonight.
Night 2, 12/2/10
Let’s start the Night 2 wrap-up with an apology about yesterday’s rundown (another unfortunate holiday tradition for me), namely that I neglected to thank Thurston Moore for the mix cd that we sold at the merch stand, all money going to the evening’s charity, which naturally I forgot to mention, NJ Seeds. Oops.
OK, let’s get back to the music! We’ve been hoping that Greg Cartwright might join us at Hanukkah for years now, whether with the Oblivians or Reigning Sound or solo — the guy wears many hats. Turns out that all we needed to do to coax him north was share a record with him and his newest band, the Parting Gifts (which reminds me — did I ever tell you that my mom was a contestant on Concentration?). Direct from recording a session for WFMU’s Cherry Blossom Clinic, apparently the first time all six of them had ever played together, they sounded great — who’s writing better minor-chord songs than Greg Cartwright? No one. Add a couple of Coco Hames’s more country-oriented numbers and their side of our split single, and night 2 was off to a roaring start.
Jim Gaffigan was up next, making his Hanukkah debut, and we hope he’ll remember it fondly during his run of seven shows at the Best Buy Theater, which begins tonight. (Time for us to get to work on selling the naming rights for the time we do Hanukkah shows.) A hilarious eating tour of New York’s fine-dining establishments: McDonald’s, Subway, and the vending machine at the gym. Both James and I couldn’t help but imitate his delivery during our set.
Thanks to an unusual confluence of the Jewish calendar and YLT history, the second night of Hanukkah was the 26th anniversary of our first-ever show, at Maxwell’s with Antietam. We opened tonight’s set as we did 26 years ago, with the Urinals‘ “Surfin’ with the Shah” and our own “Five-Cornered Drone (Crispy Duck),” and returned to our original set list later on with “The Pain of Pain” and “A House Is Not a Motel.” Our old friend Bob Lawton, best known perhaps as the drummer for Double Dynamite, played guitar on “The Summer,” and we ended the set with a holiday classic, Roky Erickson’s arrangement of “Heroin.”
Norton recording artist the Great Gaylord was in the house, so we switched into our Condo Fucks persona to back him on the Stones’ Rice Krispies commercial. We invited Gaylord to pick one more song, and boy were we relieved when he retracted his first choice, “I’m Not in Love,” for the far-simpler Burt Bacharach number (perhaps the first time that sentence has ever made sense) “My Little Red Book,” both of which had the able assistance of Greg Cartwright as well. We swapped out Gaylord for the Parting Gifts’ Dave Amels and played two of the tracks they recorded with the great Mary Weiss on her Dangerous Game record. According to the Hanukkah Drawing Board, painstakingly prepared over the last 12 months, we had one more surprise to come. But in fact we had two: the first one being that we had to stall for 10 minutes. Georgia sang a gorgeous “I’ll Keep It with Mine”; I told a side-splitting joke I learned from Lambchop’s Tony Crow*, and we took a couple of requests.
And then Glenn Mercer from the Feelies joined us, to play “Pretty in Pink,” just as he did 26 years ago at Maxwell’s to close our first show. But we weren’t going to bring Glenn up for just one song. As the “encore” inexorably morphed its way into “second set,” we added Bill Million to the orchestra and played “White Light/White Heat,” “Fa Ce La” and “Roadrunner.” We sent everyone home with a birthday cookie and finally called it a night.
*What’s the one thing you don’t want to hear after having sex with Willie Nelson? . . . “I’m not Willie Nelson.”
Night 1, 12/1/10
What an amazing week-plus that was! We want to thank everyone who attended, everyone who particip — Say what? That was only the first night?!
And what a night. Over the years one of our least-beloved Hanukkah traditions has been contacting M. Ward to see if he could take part, and finding out that he has a scheduling conflict. This year was no exception: word reached us that M. would be enjoying some down time in Hawaii. But wait! Came a subsequent communique suggesting that M. was able to juggle some poi and make opening night. It meant giving up a tradition, but we jumped at it. He performed solo, without even a looping gizmo, which I know I’d never seen him do before. It was incredibly beautiful and way too short.
One of our most beloved holiday traditions is a set by Todd Barry. He began with a staredown of ace Hanukkah Diary photog Liz Clayton, before moving on to eviscerating YLT guitar tech and sometime Todd Barry muse Gil Divine. A visitor’s guide to Missoula, MT was an unexpected comedic highlight. Todd pronounced the set 99.99 great, and he may have sold himself short.
If you can think of a better way to start Hanukkah 2010 than Elvis Presley impersonator Gene DiNapoli revising “One Night” into a holiday-appropriate “Eight Nights,” then . . . there’s no need to finish this sentence, because you can’t. Can’t be done. Did I mention we had a horn section too? Elvis left the building, but the horns hung around for James’s take on Al “Hanukkah Time” Johnson’s “Hanukkah Time,” “Mr. Tough,” and “Moby Octopad,” the last of which brought M. Ward back to the stage. M. played a few songs with us, took a breather, and then helped us close the set with a particularly furious “I Heard You Looking.”
When Todd Barry comes to your show, you’re not just getting a great comedian. He’s what they call in the show business world The Total Package — he’s also a professional drummer. Todd was extra professional on Sparks‘s “Angst in My Pants,” the encore opener, then returned the drum throne to Georgia, as Nash Kato took the stage to perform a holiday classic, Neil Diamond’s “Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon.” By the time he was done talking about me, I thought I was going to require an adrenaline shot to the heart, and that’s almost exactly what happened as we brought M. Ward back one more time along with Gene DiNapoli — in a new outfit, no less — to perform “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck” and an impromptu “Burning Love.” Nash Kato — no slouch in the professionalism department — recognized instantly that no one onstage was going to sing the backup part, and rectified that situation toot sweet.
Gene — the professional’s professional — made us pose for a photo, and then we went home. See you tonight!