Having posted daily from January 1 through December 2, 2014, I figured I could do with a brief respite. So now, a mere 17 1/2 months later, I’m back, though admittedly still stuck in the past. I’ve never quite gotten over my disappointment that our “Sugarcube” video not only failed to win Video of the Year at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards, but didn’t even garner a nomination. What could possibly explain this obvious oversight, I’ve often wondered. Until now. Referencing professor Bob Odenkirk’s lesson, The Foghat Principle–“Does everyone remember the Foghat rule? Your fourth album should be double live”– our friend Joe wrote recently and asked: “How many people have come up to you over the years to tell you that Foghat Live is indeed NOT a double album?” To which we reply, “You’re the first,” and “IT”S NOT???” Can this be true? A little belated research confirms its six songs total 38 minutes and change, and reside comfortably within a single disc. Understandably, the members of the MTV Academy held us accountable for such shoddy scholarship, and indeed, at this late date, many other questions now suggest themselves. For instance, if you want to write rock lyrics, is it truly necessary to learn about where the hobbits dwell? On behalf of Yo La Tengo and Matador Records, all I can say is we apologize.
December 2. 1987 in Copenhagen, 1997 in Strasbourg with Run On, Hanukkah 2002 at Maxwell’s with the Sun Ra Arkestra and Girls Guitar Club, 2003 in Osaka, 2006 in Madrid, Hanukkah 2010 with the Parting Gifts, Jim Gaffigan, Glenn Mercer & Bill Million, 20113 in Leuven, and our first show ever, at Maxwell’s in 1984 with Antietam. Luis from Madrid was at one of them: We sang Happy Birthday To You and lit up all our lighters as if they were candles in a cake.
Last year on this date, we performed at the Le Guess Who festival (very possibly a redundant “the,” but it’s like the last week of school around here: we go home after a half day, and standards are slipping). When we left the stage after our set, we discovered Glenn Jones and Michael Chapman in the wings. A few twisted arms later and they were on playing “Speeding Motorcycle” with us, Glenn on one of our acoustic guitars (in the standard EADGBE tuning that he never utilizes) and Michael on electric.
Meanwhile, back in Hoboken, December 1 marked the start of Hanukkah 2010. M. Ward played the opening set and sat in for a bunch of ours; Todd Barry drummed on “Angst in My Pants”; Nash Kato sang the holiday standard, “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon.” And as Ron Popeil put it so eloquently: But wait, there’s more. Having decided there was no better way to kick off Hanukkah than with Elvis Presley’s “One Night” changed to “Eight Nights,” we asked promoter extraordinaire Todd Abramson to find us an Elvis impersonator, and before you could say “do the clam,” he had lined up Gene DiNapoli. In 30 years, I can’t pretend we haven’t made some mistakes, but one of them was not letting an Elvis impersonator get away with just one song–we closed the night with “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck” and “Burning Love” (complete with M. Ward, a horn section, and Nash Kato on backup vocals).
I’m forced to double Popeil you, because this is also the anniversary of Ray Davies on the Maxwell’s stage. Night 3 of Hanukkah 2002 had already been remarkable with the Fleshtones (Peter Zaremba sang “Cara-Lin” and “In the Sun” with us) and Fred Armisen. When we finished our set with “Nuclear War” (joined by Ferecito), we didn’t yet know whether Ray had made it. He had. The four of us took the stage and I played it as cool as I could, barely introducing him, knowing full well that everyone in the room would recognize him. My miscalculation was that given the sightlines at Maxwell’s, far from everyone in the room could see him. Expecting the 200+ in the audience to react as one, instead it was more of a ripple, as more and more people realized who our guest was. We played “This Is Where I Belong” (later the final song that Yo La Tengo would perform at Maxwell’s), “Animal Farm” and “Till the End of the Day.”
We ended 2000 the way we began it, with Mac McCaughan augmenting our lineup. Portastatic played with us in at our last two shows of the year, in Providence and Northampton, the latter 14 years ago today. Mac did double duty, sitting in on our entire set, and much of the encore too. (In fact, we had the whole band up there with us for a raucous “Group Grope.”) By my rough estimate, we’ve shared the stage with Mac somewhere around 30 times, and that doesn’t include the time I borrowed his just-out-of-the-box Fender Deluxe, turned it up to 10, and recorded the solo for Portastatic’s version of “St. Elmo’s Fire.”
This nearly yearlong stroll down memory lane concludes before the bulk of our Hanukkah shows, and in some ways it’s just as well. So much to reflect on; luckily many of those nights are recollected elsewhere on this very website. But a few snuck in under the wire–12 years ago today was the first night of our second Hanukkah. For me, the best moment may have been well before the doors opened. Ronnie Spector was our surprise special guest. In advance of her arrival for soundcheck (i.e. rehearsal), her bassist Jeremy Chatzky was making sure we were sufficiently prepped. And then the back door to Maxwell’s opened and in strode Ronnie, larger than life (and shorter than Georgia), dressed casually and all the more regal because of how little she had to work at it. We ran through our two songs, and the only issue I recall is Ronnie asking for more out of the monitors, which was hilarious to us because by comparison to our personal experience, her voice was booming. Which is not to imply that we were against hearing even more of it. Years later, I’m wondering why we did only two songs.
Our last performance of 1990 was a Planned Parenthood benefit in NYC at the no-longer-with-us venue Wetlands. We had played most of the year in our acoustic guise, with Kevin Salem and Wilbo Wright, and indeed prior to the concert proper, the four of us provided background noise for a VIP cocktail hour. But our “real” set of the night was electric, with Gene Holder on bass. The bill was the Indigo Girls, Joan Osborne, and Matthew Sweet; I can’t even imagine what “Mushroom Cloud of Hiss” sounded like in that context. No encore.