Yo La Tengo 2012 Hanukkah Diary

Night 8, 12/15/12

Let’s start with some thank yous. In a three-way tie for first, Suzanne Despres, Joe Puleo and Mark Luecke (battling a mouthful of sores) worked nonstop, starting way before the shows began, to make it all run pretty damn seamlessly. Jay Miller, Dutch Worthington and Bill Stites did some heavy lifting (literally). Eugene Mirman and Eric Dimenstein went above/beyond from behind the scenes. Janice Headley made this diary look right. Liz Clayton took all the photos, except for a few by Jessica Lee, Max Rosenthal and Jason Koffman. Maxwell’s — no band ever had a better home base. Todd, Carson, Mitch . . . everybody, thanks so much.

As recalled during his opening set, we were in the audience at Norman Blake’s first US appearance, when Teenage Fanclub previewed A Catholic Education at some Manhattan rehearsal studio that none of us could recall the name of yesterday. What better guest to have on the final night? I swooned when he opened with “It’s All in My Mind” (recorded by John McEntire on TFC’s superlative Man-Made record). There had been some pre-show discussion of asking Norman to sing “Everything Flows” during our set, but hearing his heart-tugging solo version confirmed that we made the right call. And how about that nifty capo choreography!

Norman Blake (photo by Liz Clayton)

Followers of the Yo La Tengo twitter were alerted some time ago to WFMU air personality Gaylord Fields‘s investigation of the fake Beatles phenomenon of 1964. We invited Gaylord to edify the night eight crowd, and he did not disappoint, shutting down a heckler and adding some new material (a short detour into Wyncote Records territory).

Gaylord Fields (photo by Liz Clayton)

We opened night eight with “Ohm” (recorded by John McEntire on YLT’s forthcoming Fade record). Norman helped us out for the rest of the set. We took care of some unfinished business from our repertoire (“The Cone of Silence,” “I Feel Like Going Home”), played some covers both observant (“Goin’ Back”) and non- (“Walking on Ice”). Next up was one-time Teenage Fanclub producer Don Fleming for his classic “Evelyn Marble,” Dylan’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” and TFC’s “God Knows It’s True.” We closed with “I Heard You Looking,” from both the Yo La Tengo and Teenage Fanclub book, and — what else? — “Eight Days a Week.” And that was almost that. We climbed the stairs from the basement one last time, already drumming the intro to “Antmusic,” and pulled some percussionists from the front row for a little bonus thunder. Gaylord had a few more observations he wanted to make, and as long as he was there, we backed him on “My Little Red Book” and the Great Gaylord/Condo Fucks classic (by way of the Rolling Stones) “Rice Krispies.” And oh yeah, my mom sang “My Little Corner of the World.” I unplugged the menorah (if I only I had heard it referred to as the meNorman in time to use that joke on stage), and THAT was that.

As we did all Hanukkah, the proceeds went to help with the recovery from Sandy. Last night’s recipient was Jersey Shore Relief. Yoni Wolf put together the mix cd. Hey, everybody, thanks for coming. A giant thank you to each and every performer. We had a blast . . . and we’re really really glad it’s over!

Night 7, 12/14/12

I knew of no way to deal with the horror of yesterday’s news other than to try to force it from the front of my brain. Right now it feels trivial to be writing this. I doubt there’s anything that can make sense of what happened, but maybe for a few hours at Maxwell’s last night, we could be comforted by music, laughing, and community.

So . . . Titus Andronicus opened the night with a roar — I always read about them as being a punk-rock group, and maybe they are in the old-fashioned (and my favorite) definition of that term as “indescribable.” Patrick made the only mention from the stage of the night about Connecticut, which makes him stronger than me. A great set, closing with the breathtaking one-two of “Titus Andronicus Forever” and the seasonal favorite “Roadrunner.”

Titus Andronicus (photo by Liz Clayton)

If you spend any time around the three of us, sooner or later you’ll hear one or everybody burst into “Acappella Ghostbusters,” as made famous by Jon Glaser and Jon Benjamin‘s Soundtrackappella (or is it Soundtracappella — I forgot to ask, but that’s ok, they’d have given me two different answers). Ten years after Hanukkah 2002, we asked them if they agreed with us it was time for a return engagement. It was a bit dicey for a while; the years of travel, Greg’s drinking, and a disagreement over how the Earth would end brought the duo dangerously close to an on-stage breakup. But the voice of an angel emerged, imploring Jason to “smile,” and they finished strong with “Acappella Danger Zone.” Eventually.

We played as a quartet, joined by Andrew Bird, who provided pretty dazzling violin to our entire set. “Stupid Things” was reprised from night two, but otherwise we pulled out songs previously unplayed — I’m pretty sure “How to Make a Baby Elephant Float,” to name one, has never sounded better. Holiday selections abounded: Andrew sang Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne’s “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” Georgia broke hearts with “I’ll Keep It with Mine,” and I popped eardrums on the set-ending “Heroin.” For the encore, we asked Devendra Banhart if he had any songs written by Jews that he’d like to sing and boy did he ever. Hanukkah debuts for both Jorma Kaukonen (“Song for the North Star“) and Al Jolson (“If I Only Had a Match”).

I compiled the mix cd and we donated the proceeds to Waves for Water’s Hurricane Sandy Relief Initiative. I hope tomorrow you find better things.

Night 6, 12/13/12

It’s possible that we met Barbara Manning on the same day in 1990 that we met James and Joe Puleo. We were booked at Providence’s Rocket with World of Pooh, featuring Barbara on bass, and Christmas, in new bassist James McNew’s first show. So it was especially meaningful to us that, after a few years of playing hard to get, Barbara was available to open night six. As a responsible diarist, I am not here to tell lies, no matter how painful the truth, so I’m freely admitting that as Hanukkah proceeds we are growing progressively untethered from time and space. In other words, at some point while we were writing set lists and doing knee bends and undertaking our other pre-show rituals, we realized that it was well past 8:30. Finding out I missed “Never Park” and “Sympathy Wreath” was a lot like Hank Kingsley finding out he overslept through the opening of the Lookaround Cafe. At least I arrived in plenty of time to hear “I’m on the Wrong Side” and learn that Barbara’s been writing songs for George Jones.

With the Hoboken PATH station closed, people are having to be extra creative about how they get to Maxwell’s. On night five, John Oliver revealed a heretofore untried method that involved a train to Secaucus (not recommended) and last night, Eugene Mirman described a route that no GPS would concoct unless the current model, in addition to helping you avoid tolls or find the shortest distance, offers to take you where you’re most likely to be murdered. Fortunately for us, and certainly Eugene, he lived to tell us about his local Guitar Center, where he’s the two most famous shoppers, and the difference between stairs in England and the U.S. Before his set was over, he had presided over a marriage, and brought Larry Murphy on stage for a playlet in which Daniel Day-Lewis as Abe Lincoln calls tech support (acted by an audience member who demonstrated a little less respect for the written word than I think Eugene and Larry were expecting).

If you’re scoring at home, last night we played “Big Day Coming” for the third time, in its third arrangement, this one being the way it was written, as heard on the opening cut of Painful. We dusted off “Winter A-Go-Go,” “Five-Cornered Drone” and “Evanescent Psychic Pez Drop,” and closed with “Blue Line Swinger.” Asked if she wanted to sing with us, Barbara Manning suggested a song by Ten Wheel Drive. We took one look at the chart, and asked what her second choice was. Fast forward a bit and we were on stage backing Barbara and her fiancé Dan on the Yule Logs’ “Christmas Is Lonely (When You’re a Jew).” We weren’t going to let her leave without one more of our favorites from her songbook, so night six ended with “B4 We Go Under.”

The mix cd was compiled by our friends at Three-Lobed Recordings and the loot was donated to the Ali Forney Center.

Night 5, 12/12/12

James has been doing the poster at the door each night, and doing great work (in fact, Sunday’s poster may have been too good — stolen within seconds of being taped up). But he outdid himself last night:

the concert to benefit the brooklyn recovery fund

By now, the careful reader has surmised that the night began with a set by El-P, supported by Shannon Moore and backed by a three-piece band including James on bass. It looked to me like culture shock in the best sense–I’m not going to pretend I attend a lot of hip-hop shows, and clearly El-P is used to seeing a lot more hands in the air when said request is made. On the other hand, the singalong on “No Kings” went kinda swimmingly.

photo by
torbitt wilder, james, shannon moore, and el-p (photo by max rosenthal)
shannon moore (photo by max rosenthal)

During this Sandy-related Hanukkah (by now, the careful reader knows last night’s charity was the Brooklyn Recovery Fund), it was especially helpful to have John Oliver join us to provide some much-needed perspective. It’s not damage from the storm that should be worrying us, it’s America’s declining empire and the digital record we’re bequeathing to future generations. He suggested a few more looted treasures and a few less videos of being kicked in the family jewels. And maybe a new national anthem.

photo by max rosenthal

It doesn’t happen often during Hanukkah, but once in a while we play a set from start to finish as a trio, and last night was that night. James sang the holiday classic “I Can Hear Music” and we shouted out to our host Toddophonic Todd during “Mr. Tough” before closing with “The Story of Yo La Tango.” A special thank you to tour manager/merch salesman/raconteur for donning his guitar tuner cap this season, and looking very sporty in it indeed.

Joe at Merch (photo by Max Rosenthal)
photo by Jessica Lee
photo by Jessica Lee

It was Georgia‘s turn in the mix cd player. As Paul McCartney did not sing last night: It’s getting very near the end.

Night 4, 12/11/12

Bugs Bunny put it well: another day, another carrot.

Once we decided to give all of this year’s money to Sandy-related charities (last night’s was Hoboken’s volunteer first responders), it seemed especially appropriate to keep the opening acts close to home as well. With Real Estate, we managed to keep it close to everyone’s home: formed in New Jersey, based in Brooklyn — the only thing missing was they don’t seem quite so broken up about Dames closing their Hoboken location as we are. They played a beautiful set — had I been more on the ball I would have asked the name of that supercool long new song they did third.

photo by Liz Clayton

When Alex Bleeker sang his first lead vocal of the night on the second to last song of the set, he probably didn’t realize the shock waves were going to still be reverberating a half hour later. But at least one person in the audience found it hilariously noteworthy: our next act of the evening, Todd Barry, who spent a minute or two questioning the set list. Just off the plane from Australia where he had performed at the Sydney Opera House, Todd announced his farewell appearance at Maxwell’s, as henceforth he will be working exclusively at opera houses and palais. He will be missed.

photo by Liz “scared to be close to comedians” Clayton

We played our set as a quartet, augmented by the mighty Kid Millions of Oneida and Man Forever, freeing James to make his bass guitar debut on “Spec Bebop” and Georgia to make a rare appearance on Ace Tone for “The Summer.” We ended with “Mushroom Cloud of Hiss,” climaxing with both Georgia and Kid on guitar, helping James and me make the most ungodly noise we could. You’re welcome. For the encore, we played the seasonal evergreen “Burnin’ for You,” with Todd Barry on drums and Georgia on cowbell (and give your Maxwell’s audience a standing ovation for resisting the urge to yell “more cowbell”). Finally, we brought back Martin Courtney to help me sing “Our Way to Fall.”

photo by Liz Clayton
photo by Liz Clayton

The mix cd was compiled by Shintaro Sakamoto. One more night and it’s an official holiday!

Night 3, 12/10/12

I said it last night, and I just may say it again tomorrow: Without the Feelies, I can’t really imagine our band being around today. They wanted to contribute in some way to the recovery from Sandy, and really I have no words to describe how it felt to have them spend night three of Hanukkah with us.

The Feelies (photo by Liz Clayton)

We had been trying to get John Mulaney to join us over Hanukkah for years now, and last night it finally happened. People, I’m not going to lie to you — my mind is mush. I laughed from start to finish, but all I can recall this morning is him hobnobbing with the musical guests at Saturday Night Live and the single funniest thing that ever happened at a McDonald’s (bumping this to second place).

John Mulaney (photo by Liz Clayton)

If you think we were going to let the Feelies leave without joining us on stage, you’ve got the wrong festival of lights. Glenn Mercer joined us early on for “Time Fades Away” (is Neil Young Jewish?) and “Barnaby Hardly Working.” Mid-set, drummers Stanley Demeski and Dave Weckerman added assorted claves, sleigh bells, tambourines and maracas to “Tired Hippo,” “The Room Got Heavy,” “False Alarm” and “Double Dare.” For the encore, Bill Million helped us back Brenda Sauter as she sang “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” and then we said goodnight to Brenda and brought back Glenn. Years ago at Maxwell’s, to end our first-ever show, Glenn played “Pretty in Pink” with us. Pretty sure Richard Butler isn’t Jewish, so the five of us did “Sister Ray” instead.

you ain’t going nowhere (photo by Liz Clayton)
false alarm (photo by Liz Clayton)
james, georgia, gil jr. and dave play Double Dare (photo by Liz Clayton)
sister ray

We donated the door to the Community Foodbank of New Jersey and the mix cd of the night was by James.

Night 2, 12/9/12

Night two started with the miracle that is the Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of Marshall Allen. I don’t remember writing the set list for them, but when they opened with “Interplanetary Music,” and followed it with classic after classic — “Saturn,” “Rocket #9,” “I’m Gonna Unmask the Batman” — it was clear that I had. On the other hand, I know it was our idea to team the Arkestra up with Sabir Mateen and Darius Jones. There were other differences from the . . . I was going to type “usual” but that may not be the operative word with the Arkestra . . . from other sets I’ve seen: the 13-member ensemble included no percussionists other than drummer Craig Haynes, and most everybody stood for the whole set. Having tickets to Maxwell’s is pretty much the only reasonable excuse for not heading over to Nublu when the Arkestra come back to town this Thursday.

Knoel Scott, Darius Jones, Danny Ray Thompson (photo by Liz Clayton)
Sabir Mateen and James Stewart (photo by Liz Clayton)
Marshall Allen (photo by Liz Clayton)

Luckily for us, Fred Armisen appears uninterested in down time. On a night off from his two tv shows, he came to Maxwell’s to soundcheck, found a tv to watch his guest spot on The Simpsons, and got back in plenty of time for a set that included impressions of Elvis Costello and a guy watching a blues band at a street fair. He answered some questions (sorry, if you’re looking for Tina Fey’s cell phone number, you just had to be there), and even found time for one of his hits.

photo by Liz Clayton

And then he stuck around to play drums with us. Early on, James sang the holiday classic “Who Loves the Sun” and we played “Stupid Things” for the first time, but that was just the preamble. Midway through “Walking Away from You,” Sabir and Darius came on stage to blow our minds and hopefully yours. The six of us did “Shaker,” “Nuclear War,” “And the Glitter Is Gone” and “Our Way to Fall,” and I for one wish that the end of that last song, just the two horns playing together, was still going on right now. The Arkestra had to get back to Philadelphia, but we took their request for Sun Ra’s “Dreaming” nonetheless and then we headed for our homes.

photo by Liz Clayton
left to right: James, Darius, Sabir, Fred, Gil Jr. (photo by Liz Clayton)

The mix cd was courtesy of Kurt Wagner and proceeds are being donated to Staten Island Strong.

Night 1, 12/8/12

Steve Almaas of the Raybeats arrived at soundcheck yesterday, his pocket bulging with dollar coins, courtesy of the bus ticket machine at Port Authority, the first but not the last person Saturday to discover en route to Maxwell’s that the PATH train remains out of commission. We were able to relieve Steve of his change, but the rest of the cleanup of our town won’t be as easily accomplished. We donated the proceeds from night one of our 2012 Hanukkah shenanigans to the Rebuild Hoboken Relief Fund, the first of eight Sandy-related charities we’ll be supporting this year.

We’ve been seeing the Raybeats for so long that we remember when they were being billed as the Ex-Contortions (we also recall rotary phones, no-security airline check-in . . . stories? oh, do we have stories!). Last night they did a too-short smorgasbord from their two lp’s — can we cite the set’s brevity to rationalize our not coming up with any photos of them? Perhaps, but how do we explain not wrangling drummer Don Christensen to reprise his impLOG version of Jewish songwriters Leiber and Stoller’s “On Broadway”? I blame the world (and it could be the world’s fault, I don’t know), or first-night jitters. In any case, we had played with the Raybeats at Maxwell’s once before, so here’s a photo from that night.

The Raybeats (photo by Liz Clayton)

UPDATE 12/10–To prove that it really existed, audience member Jason Koffman provides us with an authentic Hanukkah photo of The Raybeats in action Saturday night.

The Raybeats (photo by Jason Koffman)

I know why we have no photos of Emo Philips -– he asked us not to take any. It seemed the least we could do after he so graciously took the long way home from his previous date in Hamilton, NY to be with us. Am I right to suggest that local Emo Philips appearances are nearly as rare as those of the Raybeats? The jokes were coming so fast, it’s difficult for me to pick a favorite. But I’ll bet WFMU air personality Gaylord Fields would have no such problem: I could hear his dumbfounded laughter when Emo pulled off a punchline drawing the distinction between the Latin and Greek meanings of “homo.” (I’m sure Gaylord will be only too happy to explain.)

One of the ideas behind starting these Hanukkah shows back in 2001 was to have a party with all of our friends. And maybe it hasn’t quite worked out that way (or then again, maybe it has, I don’t host a lot of parties), but it is an opportunity to see people who have been in and out of our lives for forever. With all the panache of a Vegas entertainer, I acknowledged a few of them last night, dedicating our surf-style “The Evil That Men Do” to the Raybeats, new song “Before We Run” to Emily Hubley, and “Big Day Coming” to Jesse Jarnow (that reminds me–-Jesse will be at the Hoboken Historical Museum (1301 Hudson Street) tonight at 6:30 p.m. to speak on “McCarty’s, Maxwell’s, And The Secret Power of Hoboken”). So happy to see beloved friends from not-so-beloved ex-labels, stunned to see the old friend who actually introduced me to Georgia, and I don’t know how to describe my post-set chat with Chelsea, who identified herself as one of the two singers of “Warm Leatherette” at our new wave karaoke encore at a CBGB’s 1992 (1992!!) Planned Parenthood benefit we took part in, organized by our pals at Tannis Root. They’re the people who print our t-shirts, and it just so happens that we have some beauties this year, courtesy of evil genius Stephen Hunking. You can even purchase one of them on line (take that, rotary phone!). Night one’s mix cd was compiled by WFMU air personality Tom Scharpling (co-star of our “Tom Courtenay” video). It all comes around.

We got Jody Harris from the Raybeats to join us for the set closers, “The Kid With the Replaceable Head” and “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind.” I carelessly put my stopwatch in the washing machine, but it’s entirely possible that the last number was longer than the Raybeats’ set, and I offer apologies in whatever direction required for that. We gave Liz Clayton the go-ahead to take a few pictures. See you tonight.

Yo La Tengo 2011 Hanukkah Diary

Ira’s taking a year off from the Hanukkah diary. In his stead, dispatches from the front will be filed by guest correspondents.

Night 8, 12/27/11
by Josh Madell

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

I did not plan on starting this post by mentioning that I got stuck in hellish traffic on the way to Jersey and missed the first fifteen minutes of the opening set. I was going to gloss over the whole embarrassing affair, until I went back to my car at the end of the night and found it had been booted by the Hoboken Police, right there on Frank Sinatra Drive (residential zone — no visitors please!). Suddenly I saw some relevance, or at least a narrative arc, in my trials surrounding the eighth and final night of Yo La Tengo’s 2011 Hanukkah shows at Maxwell’s. Getting stuck behind two morons who crashed rather than merge before entering the Holland Tunnel, and then getting whacked at the end of the night for parking on an isolated street near a popular “tourist” bar — these are the trials of daily life, the grind that wears on us all (and Glenn Mercer got the boot too — now that is just rude, Mr. Po-Po). And the rest of my night, spent surrounded by family and friends, good food, strong drinks, and magical music — that is what holiday celebrations are supposed to be all about, finding the strength to face the daily struggles in the embrace of our loved ones.

If I push the analogy a bit further, these (almost) yearly celebrations that the band host each December are, like most holidays, about gathering together your nearest and dearest and stopping time for just a moment, to revel in what really matters in life, with the people who mean the most to you. These are concerts, with paid admission (but all for charity — tonight the local Oasis Women and Children’s Resource Center) and no naps on the couch (well, maybe for the band), but each night, the stage and the audience is filled with familiar faces, old friends and new ones to meet, all from the extended YLT family. And if we are a family, it stands to reason that Ira is our patriarch; beginning this year’s festivities with the announcement that dad had been sick, and these shows would somehow be different, only heightened the emotion of the week, as the family pulled together to face one more of life’s indignities together.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

Anyway I did finally make it in to the show, and the Trypes were playing to a packed room on their home stage. I’ll admit I was not familiar with the band — I love the Feelies, but I’m a few years too young and from the wrong side of the river to be deeply involved with all of their finer details. The Trypes are a related band who recorded a four-song EP (The Explorers Hold) with Bill Million and Glenn Mercer during the hiatus between the first two Feelies records, and they included most of the Feelies/Yung Wu/etc. scene at one point or another during their exhilarating return to the Maxwell’s stage. Nearly thirty years on, this was a shambling group that usually had five or six folks on stage, delivering a loose and joyful set full of melodic piano, layers of guitar, woodwinds, and loads of percussion — they surely did not sound like they dusted off the cobwebs for this show, and other than some lyric crib sheets up front, I would have thought for sure this was a regular gig. Their sound obviously had some of the Feelies bucolic sprawl, but it was less precise, more communal, and somehow seasonally appropriate, with many voices and a droney, percussive sound that dove into the small intersection of the Velvet Underground’s first album and Moondog’s madrigals without losing its jangle. There was a sort of raw spirituality to their set that electrified the crowd and the band alike. The Trypes closed their show with an encore-caliber mini-set, bringing Ira on stage with his acoustic for a killer version of “The Undertow” and George Harrison’s sitar jam “Love You To” from Revolver.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

After some between-set music from Georgia’s own mix CD, and some gear shuffling on stage, including the appearance of a large video screen and projector, Ira took the stage to introduce the night’s comedic entertainment, none other than Chris Elliott! Nobody knew what to expect — Elliott has been one of the funniest personalities on TV (and in film, print, etc.) since he first appeared on Late Night With David Letterman in the mid-’80s, but he is not known for standup. Sure enough, after some banter with Ira (I believe he told his starry-eyed host to “shut the fuck up”), Elliott promptly sat down and played a hilarious clip from his current Adult Swim show Eagleheart — a bold move asking a club crowd to watch TV, but at least up front, it was a hit. For the rest of you, I strongly recommend setting the DVR for this one; it is a great new turn from a comedy genius. Elliott was then joined by all of YLT for a pretty stunning version of Neil Diamond’s “I Am… I Said,” a bona fide Hanukkah song by Yo La Tengo’s somewhat loose standards. Elliott belted at least one verse directly to his chair, who for the record did seem to be listening, remaining coy when Elliott started to make out with it. Ira, who planned on sitting in said chair the rest of the night, only smiled.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

Another brief interlude of Georgia’s mix, and the band took the stage again, this time without Chris Elliott, but joined by longtime compatriot and top-shelf axeman Rick Rizzo (of Eleventh Dream Day), who sat in with Yo La for more than half the set, as well as John Baumgartner from the Trypes, who played accordion on a couple, including a stellar, swooning version of “I Threw It All Away.” Three songs in, they lurched into a rocked-up take on another holiday classic YLT-style, VU by way of Roky Erickson’s “Heroin” which, I must say, gave me pause so early in the set — how do you follow that one, especially while seated (I will say Ira had fully mastered seated guitar shredding by night three or so). My fears were unfounded (of course), as there is nobody working a stage these days who can pace a set like Yo La Tengo. Over the course of the week (I saw four shows this season) I’d seen them play hushed melancholia, crisp pop and stomping noise-rock, sometimes all in one set, but even with Ira’s supposed “limitations” this year, this band always knows how to send the fans sprawling, and then reel them in again. They took advantage of Rizzo’s pealing feedback, but my favorite moment may have been when they closed out his portion with a near-acoustic take on “Big Day Coming.”

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

Glenn Mercer hopped on stage for an oldie (but goodie), “The Empty Pool” from YLT’s debut Ride The Tiger (actually originally a Yung Wu song written by Mercer’s bandmate Dave Weckerman), and they moved into the home stretch with “From a Motel 6,” eventually winding down with “I Heard You Looking,” followed by a fan favorite, Georgia’s version of Big Star’s “Take Care.” Is Alex Chilton Jewish, or do these guys just love him? After a short break, the band returned for the encore, but not before Ira took a moment to thank everyone who had stepped up to make these shows possible – a typical (and always heartfelt) shout-out to all the behind-the-scenes folks and legions of special guests who make an event like this happen. This year though, in light of Ira’s health scare, and the different shape these shows took in its wake (Ira seated, slightly mellower sets, extra guitar support on stage from many of the band’s longtime BFFs), this seemed like a truly special moment to pause and reflect. I’m pretty sure I saw James get a little choked up, and I’ll admit that I did; it is always magical seeing this band in their element, but this year, realizing how they pulled together and made what could have been (maybe was) a harrowing and supremely challenging experience seem so effortless, so special and so pure, surrounded by the family and friends that mean the most in hard times — yes, we’re back to our theme — was truly inspirational. Turns out you can rise above; in my case, all it took was a $100 Boot Fee and a $50 Paylock Fee, plus the parking ticket — how Yo La Tengo does it, I’ll never know.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

Anyway, they bust into the iconic “Blue Line Swinger,” the ultimate freight-train-leaving-the-station crowd mover and for many years the band’s perennial set closer, followed by one more that simply could not be followed: Ira’s mom singing “My Little Corner of the World.” Ira yanked the plug on the menorah, and that’s all she wrote. This is all I wrote: happy holidays to all of you, thanks YLT for a great week, and please love your friends and family — they are crazy, but they’re all you got!

Night 7, 12/26/11
by Joe Puleo

Every year in this metropolis it is the same thing: the relentless yammering of the Jews and Hanukkah. After six nights of it, even my lapsed Catholicism has lapsed. I find myself hankering for a conversion. I’m starting to read Hebrew on people’s arms. Is it possible to bite down hard enough on my tongue to redirect the pain of a conversion bris? I want this. Six nights of Hanukkah before considering my conversion may not seem like much of a triumph. It is. In years gone by it has happened by night three.

But then I was walloped coming back from a Boxing Day visit to the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Plaza. What could be less Jewish than that? Besides Amar’e Stoudemire?

While standing on Fifth Avenue trying to figure out the panels at the top of the French Building, a kid came up to me and asked if I was Jewish. I said, God no. He said, Sorry. I said, Look this is really too much — can’t I just celebrate the birth of my goddamned Savior without you guys spilling your Jew oil all over my Yule log? Of course you can’t say that to someone. So I escaped into the nearest store. It was a jeans shop called Levi’s.

I tasted blood on my tongue.

I woke up. My phone was ringing.

It was the office asking me to make an investigation at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. I am an insurance-claim investigator. I make reports, other people make the money. I think you know who.

The boss told me that the backroom of Maxwell’s has had the roof raised and/or blown off for six nights in a row. Another report had an elderly lady dancing on a chair covered with jackets. Who knew what else was going on? It warranted an investigation. That’s where I come in.

It was 8:30 p.m. when I came in and found a fairly well-behaved capacity crowd. I did a quick fire capacity calculation. Well within Maxwell’s posted limits. I complimented the man keeping the door. He said, I love this place and I’d hate to see even the most wicked person get hurt on my watch.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

A band came on stage, sporting long hair, sweaters and flannel. Alarm bells of insurance risk rang. These guys looked like smokers and drinkers, and probably all held ill-gotten medical marijuana cards (my educated guess: monthly health insurance premiums as high as their blood pressure or their sugar levels.) They called themselves Kurt Vile and the Violators — no doubt most of the audience did, too. Opening their set with a The Feelies song displayed survival instincts rare for nearly-2012.

The song choice won over the audience, and if it didn’t (it did) then the primal chug of the guitars and drums did the work, moving the audience away from workaday concerns. Like a good neighbor, you were in good hands with Kurt Vile and the Violators. They stuck mostly to songs from their outstanding 2011 release Smoke Ring for My Halo. The set was architecturally perfect, dropping us back onto street level, if not a bit lower, with “Peeping Tomboy” and “Society Is My Friend.” Hearing them play was not enough for my report. I did something natural to me, but that seems to be a lost art in the investigation field. I call it the face-to-face. An interview. I spoke to the guitar player. He was busy packing up his instrument.

Q: Can I have a set list?
A: Oh yeah sure.
Q, but not really a Q: That was great.
A: Thanks.
Q: Can I get you a beer or something?
A: Yeah, and for John, too.
Q: Busted.
A: What?
Q: I cannot recommend you for an insurance policy.
A: Eh?

It is rare to be in such an open mood during an investigation. I blame Kurt Vile and the Violators. Insurance policy or not, I can tell you this, if they come to your city you have to see them. There are enough things in life that will make you feel bad and most of them cling to you with no consideration of their weight. Kurt Vile and the Violators make joyful music and they do it in a way that looks effortless, looks cool. Some of it will become part of you. It won’t solve any of your problems, but for a little while it will seem like it did.

There was an intermission.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

When it ended, a comedian stepped on stage. Laughter is not the best medicine. Sometimes it is the only medicine. The comedian Leo Allen wasted no time in showing historical cases supporting this theory. To an insurance-claim investigator historical cases are the best medicine. He looked healthy, proportioned properly for height and weight, probably not going to get sick anytime soon. He told us the interesting tale of Giles Corey, maybe the first person to use sarcasm in America, and surely the only one pressed to death for warlocking. The sarcasm came when the Salem authorities gave Corey a chance to get out from under the weight of boards and rocks — he just had to confess. Instead, Corey said, More Weight. The audience exploded into laughter. The roof held its form, maybe a few ceiling panels lifted but they reset quickly. Leo Allen seized on our curiosity, telling a story about joining a 12-step program for finding lost objects. His lost object was a pepper grinder. He found salvation through Professor Solomon’s website. Leo Allen said that Step One was Keep Calm and that he located his pepper grinder on Step Two. My research shows it was actually Step Four. Leo Allen’s reaction to locating his pepper grinder underscores my discovery. He did not keep calm. He shattered the pepper grinder against his kitchen wall. Mixing up the steps — clearly, Leo Allen was never calm. I would’ve loved a face-to-face with Leo Allen but he had disappeared downstairs.

A brief intermission happened here. At the end of the intermission, I noticed a familiar, depressing site. Another insurance-claim investigator — beautiful, tall, well-dressed, and a much better investigator than I can ever dream of becoming. He shined his flashlight on the floor and against the walls, and he moved people aside, seemingly investigating the splatter patterns of beer on the floor.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

Yo La Tengo took the stage with Special Guest Dave Schramm joining them on guitar. Dave was playing with Yo La Tengo before there was a Yo La Tengo. When he joins them he works as a sort of an oil gauge to see how the engine is holding up. It is always wonderful.

Yo La Tengo is never shy about digging deep in to The Grotto of Songs, but tonight they went deeper, they went into their genizah. Songs that haven’t seen the light of any menorah were dug up and played as if 25 years ago were yesterday. Use that as a great reason to maintain your friendships, more than a facebook update, I mean. That thing back there, the past, doesn’t have to be locked away. All it takes to unlock it is the comfort and confidence provided by friends. What’s the new saying, Time is the thing that stops everything from happening at once.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

There were many highlights. Here are just a few.

James might argue differently but he wasn’t on stage to deliver one-liners. He delivered them though, especially before “I Can Hear Music.” I hadn’t heard such laughter in Maxwell’s since Leo Allen’s set. No smiles disappeared during the song. James sang it so sweetly, I am sure you will agree.

Shortly thereafter “The Cone of Silence” was played. It filled me with wonder. I am shallow, two questions filled me.

1) Who has played this song more times live, James or Dave?
Dave was there when it was a staple of set lists. James has him on longevity.
B) What happened to the insurance investigator angle?
The guy with the flashlight takes his job seriously. His investigation report will outshine mine. His company will outdo mine. That’s fine — at least I was able to relax and enjoy the music, unlike that guy.

Maybe my favorite Yo La Tengo song is “I Feel Like Going Home.” I’ve watched Georgia sing it in far-flung, miserable places when I considered it a definite plea for a tour to be called on account of heavy mental weather. Tonight’s rendition had none of those outside, probably invented connotations. And besides, if she really wanted to, she could step off the stage and walk home. That would have been awkward. The audience would’ve followed her home, we were entranced. To save us all a long walk, the room went quiet. Hushed. Dave on guitar allowed Ira to play piano, in a vibraphone setting. If this version of the song became the soundtrack for a commercial, I would have way too many of whatever is the product.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

Very Special Guest Peter Stampfel joined Yo La Tengo featuring Special Guest Dave Schramm. They started with Peter’s song “Griselda.” Peter’s voice sounds like no other. If more singers had as much joy in their voices as Peter does, the world would be a friendly place.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

Peter stayed on for a few more numbers, singing, popping and locking, sending out rainbows from his iridescent violin bow. Peter’s work was done with “Mr. Tough.”

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

Yo La Tengo featuring Dave Schramm wound to a finish with a few more choice picks from the genizah. No fools Yo La Tengo, they found a path and followed my nemesis with the flashlight, off the stage they went.

They came back to the stage for three more songs, ending on Neil Young’s “Prisoners of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” One night of Hanukkah remains. Ira has promised me that I can chop up his chair and use it for kindling. In fact, he’s encouraged it. I need to investigate Maxwell’s insurance policy, but something like a chair is probably covered.

Ira made the mix.

The beneficiary last night was Pathfinder International.

Night 6, 12/25/11
by Kelly Reichardt

I made my second trip out to Hoboken this week. It was night 6 of the Yo La Tengo Christmas shows. Only six more nights to go! My ears are still ringing from Pussy Galore two nights earlier, and some of that hearing, I fear, isn’t coming back. So tonight I came prepared. I put my earplugs in and make my way to the rear of the room where I like to set myself up near Joe Puleo over at the t-shirt table. There’s a bar stool back there and a bit more air and this is a good place for someone five foot tall to take in the show. The t-shirt area also serves as a sort of time out station where folks like Georgia’s sister Emily and her husband Will Rosenthal come to rest between acts.

No sooner do I get situated on my bar stool and Joe P is telling me he has a job for me. He hands me a notebook and pen and then says something about clogging. No way. Clogging is not my bag, but since I have this notebook, and I’m observant and good with facts and details, I agree to at least be the night’s reporter. (I figured when I started calling myself Scoop Reichardt back in the ’80s I might be tapped for this sort of thing.)

First, I’ll describe the joint. It’s a dark room with a low stage at the front, and a bar to the right. There’s a bald guy with smooth soft white skin sporting a red button-down shirt who sits by the door next to a blue light. People pay to enter, but once in a while someone puts their hand to this blue bug light, makes a fist, and waltzes in for free. This is all made more suspect by the fact that every now and then the pale red-shirt guy is replaced by another bald guy with soft white skin in an almost identical red shirt. Some kind of flimflam going on.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

Then Ira comes over and whispers thank you for agreeing to clog tonight. Yeah, again, I’m not into that, but before I can tell him to count me out, Dump is on the stage. I know, I know, this reporter is asking herself the same question. How in the world did Yo La Tengo get Dump to play their Christmas night show? I guess everybody in this business has connections. In any case, it’s our good fortune and listening from my perch I forget all about my duties and just let myself get lost in the music (not in any kind of freaky arm-waving way, but just in a quiet-inside way). I’m in my zone. Enjoying myself along with everyone else in the room. It’s somewhere in the middle of the Prince cover tune, “Another Lonely Christmas” that the older, more disgruntled looking red-shirt-wearing door guy makes a beeline over to me. He’s shouting something I can’t make out, but I can clearly read his lips as he keeps repeating YOU SURE LOOK GOOD TONIGHT KELLY! I finally lean closer and take out the earplugs and it turns out what he is actually yelling in my face is YOU CAN’T STAND ON THAT STOOL! He yells it three more times in a really mean voice — like in the tone the fuzz has been using all fall when they’re yelling YOU CAN’T PITCH THAT TENT HERE! Wow, not the attitude I was expecting at a Christmas charity show featuring the sweet voice of James McNew and the soon-to-appear amateur cloggers. That’s cool. Before he whips out his pepper spray I step off my stool. I don’t even bother showing him my press credentials. You can’t reason with guys like this. I can hear the words “smaller than you are” wafting over the audience, but my view of the stage is now totally gone. I look over to Will Rosenthal who, five songs into the night, is already collapsed into a box of XXL shirts. He and Emily, who have been coming every night, are already all sweaty and looking like a dance team at the end of THEY SHOOT HORSES DON’T THEY. I ask Will who that crazy yelling guy is and he tells me it’s Mike Rosenberg.

I’m sure another reporter would have given up and gone home. Or maybe another reporter would have used this opportunity to scramble to the front. I can see the advantages in that — the energy off the crowd, the seeing of the band. In seven years of Christmas shows I’ve never been up close. True, I’ve never seen what goes on on stage left where Ira plays, but with that one small concession I’ve always been fine up on my stool. But this is the era of Homeland Security and helicopter parenting where we gotta all wear helmets and seat belts, refrain from sharing needles and not stand on bar stools blah blah blah. That’s cool, I’m not gonna let Rosenberg (aka The Man) get me down. I’m staying put here in the back and I’ll do my reporting from the ground, as they say.

9:12 Aaron from Brooklyn purchases a large Peanuts shirt.

9:15 Barry from Morristown (previously from Cedar Knolls) buys a medium Velvet Underground-style shirt.

9:18 David Grossman from Brooklyn announces that he has exact change but is unable to decide which of the two mixed CDs (Tim & Eric) to buy.

9:19 Zerek Chase from New York gets a large Peanuts shirt.

9:20 Brit formally from Nebraska wants to know if she can try on the small and bring it back if it’s too small.

9:22 David still asking everyone in earshot which CD he should buy.

9:34 Ira takes the stage and congratulates the Knits (a group I’™m not familiar with) and introduces Burt Bradler, the comedian of the night.

9:21 Joe P passes off shirt selling duties to Ira’s brother, Neil.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

The comedian is on stage just as Neil himself is getting warmed up with such t-shirt greats as “Everything for half price!” and “Two shirt minimum,” then fueled by the crowd’s laughter for the comedian, “Twenty-five dollar restocking fee!”

Adam Garfunkel from Brooklyn — wait, Brooklyn?!? David is also from Brooklyn! With a CD in each hand, and exact change still in his pocket David from Brooklyn is meeting Adam from Brooklyn. Small world. Two Brooklyn guys ending up at the t-shirt table at a club in Jersey.

Brit is back and as it turns out the small is too small and she would just prefer to have an x-large sleeping shirt now that she thinks about it.

10:03 Joe returns with the iPhone clock. Comedy is over.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

10:23 Yo La Tengo takes the stage. The great Tara Key joins them. Exact change David, in his excitement, sets down both CDs and disappears into the crowd.

I can see the top of an afro, the tip of a hat bopping up and down and James. I hear Ira’s voice as he introduces a song by the Kernels.

10:49 Sometimes I Don’t Get You

11:02 Gil takes the stage.

11:09 I’m Set Free

11:11 Rumors spread that The Boss will be making an appearance.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

11:12 Georgia moves to center mic as Rachel joins Yo La on the stage. I ask Joe what Rachel’s last name is and he tells me to Google Bright Eyes when I get home. So here’s what I found out: Rachel is the owner of Bright Eyes Hairdressing & Day Spa and has been in the industry for over 12 years. She received the Principal’s Award at the highly renowned Pivot Point Hairdressing College and has since owned salons in Bridgewater and Shepparton, before opening at Riverside Plaza.

The weird thing is Rachel hung out by the t-shirt stand for a good amount of the night and never once mentioned that she played drums or did hair. I sort of figured out the drum part on my own because I spotted her air drumming through some of the comedian’s set, but the spa thing was a total surprise.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

The band plays Nowhere Near, Moby Octopad, Nothing to Hide.

The crowd of mostly Jewish, middle-aged men are swaying, hands in pockets, heads nodding yes and no to the beat. The vibe is good.

11:50 Band leaves the stage.

11:52 Band returns. Ira introduces a Monkees song written by Carole King.

The whole night ends with a personal favorite, the Sun Ra ballad Dreaming.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

It’s a great set. Another great night. Georgia’s singing kills me, and every year I really do get hit with this wave of love for these shows — for the music and the charities they support (tonight’s was Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law) and for being able to take part in something. I look around the room at the back of all these heads and think I bet we’ve all stood here many times together and shared other nights like this one. We are all connected and it’s a really beautiful thing. We’ve survived 2011, which was a pretty challenging year. But here we are still standing. And there’s still a lot to be thankful for. So Merry Christmas, Yo La Tengo and a very Merry Christmas to you, Mr. Rosenberg.

Night 5, 12/24/11
by Tim Harris

Merry Christmas, Hanukkah fans. It’s three a.m. on Christmas morning and Tara and I just returned from Hoboken from night 5 of the Yo La Tengo stand (with a brief detour to the Lyric Diner on Third Avenue at 22nd). Though my first time at Maxwell’s this holiday, I have been bemused from afar at the collection of YLT collaborator-guitarists — including Dave Rick, Mac McCaughan, and Tara — all confounded this week wondering what they would be doing onstage at Maxwell’s. Would it be the usual encore call-up, when Ira will tell you what the song is when you get on stage and maybe give you one or two chords while saying, “You’ll figure it out,” and then you turn to James for clues? Or would they actually have to KNOW THE SONGS!?

photo credit: Stephen Hunking // click for bigger version

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

My bemusement turned to alarm when Ira and YLT troubleshooter, Suzanne, asked me to blog the gig, resulting in my remaining in one place in Maxwell’s for three amazing sets, two music and one comedy, while standing my ground with some admirable holiday stamina. To start, the Glands from Georgia were so cool! I saw them play with the Condo Fucks a month ago and have heard them on record, but I wish I could do them more justice by knowing their songs. The first thing that stands about them is their perfect craftsmanship, with passages, bridges or transitions, for example, that only happen once, always a good sign. Certain moments in their music sound to me like classic-pop something, but I can’t quite grasp what they are referencing, exemplars of genres that only consist of that particular song. To put it another way, they just sort of effortlessly throw off suggestions of entire possible pop genres. Hey does that make any sense? Well, come on, it’s now 3:30 in the morning! The drummer sounds like he wants to tell you something new in every song, plays with a crispness that makes you want to sit up. And the bass player! I was mesmerized by the way the bass in the Glands really informs the identity of the songs, bopping and syncopating to make sprightly pop tunes and then kicking it in hard to a solid groove whenever they let go. Yeah, OK, I play bass.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

photo credit: Stephen Hunking // click for bigger version

Next up was The Man In the Green Mask (Jon Glaser) who explained that his act would consist of an introductory statement, a joke, a story, and a Q&A. The equanimity of that description belies the hilarity of what was about to ensue. Or something like that, G. When he got to the Q&A, he insisted that each question be proceeded by, “Man in the Green Mask,” or he would move on to the next. The first guy didn’t do it and a mini-riot broke out. At some point, a woman asked, “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” flummoxing the Man, who declared it the best question he’d ever been asked. When the final questioner began, “Man in the Iron Mask…,” the scene broke apart and the act came to an abrupt end.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

Yo La Tengo came on with Tara Key a little while later and quietly started a trilogy of some of their most beautiful melodies. First, Ira began singing a quiet, muted version of “Big Day Coming” with both Tara and Ira on keyboards and James on bass, while Georgia wafted sonically on the guitar. (This would be followed later in the set by Big Loud Big Day Coming.) Though our lives have intertwined for nearly 30 years, I will try to limit myself in all things YLT/ Maxwell’s to one single historical note, which in this case is that I played bass on the first version that YLT ever performed of “Big Day Coming” on this very stage, and Tara is standing behind the organ where I was standing about 20 years ago. OK, enough of that, kids!

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

Then Georgia moved to the drums and James sang a superb “Stockholm Syndrome” accompanied by Tara’s raucous guitar solo in the middle where she proved she has the fastest wrist in the West. Then Ira played the lovely three-note guitar thing on “Crying of Lot G” and sang the breathy, haunting vocal.

The band continued in that quieter mode, alternately haunting and eerie or sprightly and jubilant; first with “Demons” from the soundtrack to I Shot Andy Warhol, in which last night’s quartet played the party scene as a sort-of Velvet Underground (see the movie for Georgia’s striped shirt and Tara’s orange guitar). Then came this cool weird, stretched-out version of “Upside Down” followed by Ira’s Thelonius-izing piano on “Beanbag Chair” and the duet “If It’s True” with Georgia. And finally, James sang “I’m On My Way” (hey, is that a Homer Simpson tribute? You know the scene where Marge tells Homer to pick up Bart at soccer practice and Homer is lying on the couch watching Wheel of Fortune and doesn’t move a muscle as he says…) with the minor chord change that pulls at me the same way as the theme to You Only Live Twice.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

This was really something special happening here. I have seen YLT perform for a quarter of a century. There are so many characteristic things that they do that sound so familiar that it is hard to recall the moment when they invented them. It’s like what people say about Wordsworth’s poetry and Godard‘s jump-cutting: it’s hard to see how momentous they were because they changed everything. I’m thinking of those YLT moments, the rhetoric of YLT if you will: Ira breaking out of a pealing shriek of feedback into a riff, Georgia straight-arming the snare into attention (“Let’s pick this up and rock, gentlemen”) like John Starks coming into the game, or my favorite move, James playing a bass riff over and over, daring you to think he is going to change, tempting you to think

With a version of “Double Dare” with both Ira and James on acoustic, and with Tara on electric, the band began to chart a different direction. “Five-Cornered Drone (Crispy Duck)” followed with soaring exchanges of leads. Tara and Ira were really taking off by this point in the set in their axe interplay (which by the way, suffered not a bit from Ira’s sitting down). Then Tara sang Antietam’s “The Orange Song” which I wrote once upon a time (no, that doesn’t count as an historical note!). Yo La Tengo’s version is pretty much the same as Antietam’s version though there continue to be small controversies on the details. Two YLT classics followed, with Georgia’s always-sensational vocal on “Decora” leading into the full-on rocked-up big version of “Big Day Coming.”

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

The next “song” was their cover of “Little Honda,” with the middle of it going into the passage of white noise with James attacking his stack with his bass over his head, and Tara and Ira disappearing from view into respective heaps of feedback. (You know how on Metal Machine Music on side 3, it kind of dips and then goes through that part where…). The passage ramped up to a caterwauling, dramatic pitch before jumping back into “Little Honda” to close the set.

For an encore, as a nod to the other holiday they covered “Rock N Roll Santa” and this was really at about midnight on Christmas Eve so Santa may have been getting his sleigh towed on Washington about right then.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

photo credit: Stephen Hunking // click for bigger version

Tara had received an officially sanctioned YLT text earlier in the day instructing her to learn “Night Moves” and she rashly wondered if Seger would be there, but I knew that if he had been, Ira would’ve made him do “2+2=?” So it turned out Jon Glaser returned as Jon from Delocated, his Adult Swim show about a man in the witness protection program, and sang “Night Moves” and, well, despite the fact that Glaser continued to be hilarious while cutting a ridiculous figure in his second mask of the night, I believe it was the best version of that song I’ve ever heard.

YLT closed the night with the ineffable “Yellow Sarong” by Chris Nelson and The Scene Is Now, and it was a really special show. I have to go to sleep now. I have a deadline in the morning!

Note: Earlier this month, Tara and I paid a visit to Letha Rodman Melchior in Durham, NC, where Letha is fighting gamely through some serious medical issues. YLT’s hard work on Friday will really help Letha out. It is so damn cool to do these benefits! And in my concentration on the show, I’m not sure who benefitted last night! [Editor’s note: It was the Tommy Brull Foundation. The mix cd was compiled by Mr. Fine Wine.] Hope you enjoy the last three nights of Hanukkah.

Night 4, 12/23/11
by Tom Scharpling

When it comes to the YLT Hanukkah shows I am generally in favor of not knowing what other acts will be filling out the bill on the comedy or musical side of things. Yes, that has led to nights of abject crisis where I am told after the fact that I missed Peter Wolf joining Hoboken’s Finest, but it has also led to some pleasant surprises, all of which currently escape me because I’m writing this directly after the show — the clock on the wall says it’s coming up on three in the a.m. I would write it tomorrow but I celebrate The Other Holiday that happens around this time of year and have to be out the door super early. MY LIFE IS SO GLAMOROUS, RIGHT?

But occasionally I will trip over a tip-off on who is playing — I swear I don’t go looking for the info but people like to talk! Information is power in this sick age we live in, and being able to lord a prime piece of knowledge over others is The Name Of The Game. I found out from someone about a month or so ago that Pussy Galore would be reforming for tonight’s show. I did not believe it, but it made sense when Julie Cafritz told people on Facebook that she would be “spending Hanukkah celebrating it the old fashioned way at a Yo La Tengo show” on December 23rd. It’s like NATIONAL TREASURE up in this piece with all these puzzles and riddles and such!

But I quietly got confirmation that it was indeed true and then promptly sat on the knowledge for the last month. Did it make me feel in any way “special” to know something that others didn’t? NOT AT ALL. Because the whole point of knowing something that others don’t is to LET ONE OR TWO OR TEN PEOPLE IN ON IT. So if anything I have proven that I have “what it takes” to protect a secret. So EVERYBODY SHOULD TELL ME EVERYTHING! (Not everything. Only the “good stuff.”)

I listened to RIGHT NOW! and SUGARSHIT SHARP all day yesterday in preparation for the show. There was a part of me that was worried whether they wouldn’t be able to pick up where they left off. Time moves on, people change, they get better at their instruments, they lose a little bit of the rawness and anger that made those records just explode.

photo credit: Dawn Sutter Madell // click for bigger version

photo credit: Dawn Sutter Madell // click for bigger version

But Pussy Galore did not disappoint AT ALL. They hit the stage and did not let up for a second. The band — Jon Spencer, Julie Cafritz, Kurt Wolf and Bob Bert — kicked it off with “You Look Like a Jew” from GROOVY HATE FUCK and powered through fifteen or so songs in about a half hour. Spencer laid off the mic between songs but the smile that overtook his face throughout the show spoke volumes.

photo credit: Dawn Sutter Madell // click for bigger version

They were so forceful and unrepentant. They did the legacy proud and I hope they aren’t ready to go away just yet — the kids of today need a band like Pussy Galore to teach them that it is okay to hate things and to yell about them but you can do it with humor and artistry. One of the greatest bands of the 80s just saw their legend grow a little bit tonight.

The only thing that could’ve made their set any better was if the dude in front of me wasn’t spending half the show reading Neil Haggerty’s Wikipedia page. Look, we all want to learn more about our favorite rockers who AREN’T IN THE LINEUP of the once-in-a-lifetime reunion, but maybe we can wait ’til after the once-in-a-lifetime reunion is finished to do it? Just a thought. People gotta realize that cell phone glow kills the person standing behind them.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

While I knew that PG was on the bill, I was pleasantly surprised to see the mighty Todd Barry was delivering the comedy. Todd is a longtime participant in the Hanukkah shows (and his presence promises he’ll do some drumming during YLT’s encore) and he most definitely Brought It during his rock solid thirty-plus minute set.

There is almost nothing more satisfying to me than watching Todd work over an audience member. He might be the most devastatingly great off-the-cuff comedian I have ever seen, and watching him dismantle a blabbermouth who kept interrupting his jokes was pure gold. Look, I wish that the crowd would learn to zip their lips and let a guy like Todd do his Actual Material. But it’s a treat to watch someone get served up at the hands of someone with as much precision as Barry. He also pointed out that Terre T — the host of WFMU’s Cherry Blossom Clinic — had the best laugh of the night. Game recognizes game!

I hustled out to the dining room to eat a quick dinner with Todd-O-Phonic Todd. We talked about the finer things in life, which means we talked living our lives through our sad fantasy sports teams. Then the rumble could be heard from the other room and YLT was underway!

It is easy to take things for granted in life, especially when they are seemingly always there. And Yo La Tengo is one of those things. They have been so consistently great for so long that they just become a part of the fabric of existence. You just assume they’re not going anywhere.

And YLT is definitely one of those things for a lot of people. But pull YLT from the active roster (fantasy sports infiltrates everything!) and you’ll be on your knees begging for one more show, one more album, one more anything from a band that has done nothing but be perfect for decade after decade. Yes, you should get excited about your new bands! That is what being a fan is about! But don’t do it at the expense of the legends, especially when they work so hard at being great. I cannot think of an act that gleefully pushes the margins the way they do, trying to find out where the edges to their abilities lay.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

The band was joined by Dave Rick — former YLT, Bongwater, Phantom Tollbooth and more, one of the best guitarists in the biz — for the entirety of the set. Ira was able to just fill it up from his chair — apparently he threw his back out in a Tough Man contest a few weeks ago — and I will never stop marveling over how talented James McNew is. I know I’m getting all sorts of Sammy Maudlin on you here but I don’t care.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

There were so many high points to the night, among them being revisiting “Serpentine” from NEW WAVE HOT DOGS, a driving version of “Black Flowers” and the band dipping into a pair of songs that Bongwater covered to great effect: The Monkees’ “Porpoise Song” and Roky Erickson’s “You Don’t Love Me Yet”, which was sung beautifully by Georgia (even though I think she had a lyric cheat sheet up there!). The Roky song featured Rachel Blumberg (M. Ward/art) sitting in while Georgia stepped up to the mic.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

Todd Barry did indeed join YLT for some tub thumping on Blue Öyster Cult’s “This Ain’t the Summer of Love.” They ended with “Crush” by the Tall Dwarfs, the second of two nods to the designer of the evening’s playlist Chris Knox (having played “Coloured” during the set). And boom it was over and it is now 4:00 AM and I have to go to bed because I have to do all my Christmas shopping tomorrow and does anybody know if there’s an artisanal iPhone case maker in the tri-state area because my daddy wants his phone to look like he’s holding a Hot Pocket against his ear.

And the charity of the night was the Letha Melchior Rodman Cancer Fund, a very deserving cause to help out a great person. You can get more information by going to http://melchiorfund.blogspot.com/.

Night 3, 12/22/11
by Ariella Stok

It’s with some consternation that I embark on the heavy task of writing the Hanukkah diary entry for night 3. Those are some big Converse sneakers to fill, and I can’t help but wonder, why me? But as any Kabbalah student worth their salt will tell you, every letter of the alphabet contains a hidden meaning, and if you take the first three letters of my name, spell them backwards, and try not to get spooked by the result, you’ll see why I am just the right person to guide you through the unforgettable magic that was night three. In yesterday’s diary, Gaylord attempted to make a case for the spiritual importance of Hanukkah’s second night (something about Maccabees and oil), and yet we all know that three is the magic number. But that’s enough Jewish mysticism for one diary entry. On to the entertainment!

My night had started off with a whimper when I discovered that my evening’s ticket, for which I had meticulously lined up at Other Music on 11:59 AM on the date of sale just a month prior, was missing. As I upended every piece of furniture that wasn’t bolted down, and turned my place upside-down searching for my missing proof of entry, I felt a pang of sympathy for all those Pavement fans who had bought tickets a year in advance to their recent reunion concert, and then were faced with having to remember where they’d been stashed a full calendar later. Talk about a dick in my ass (my new favorite expression, courtesy of night two’s comedian, Bobcat Goldthwait)! I found the sucker in a laundry bag full of dirty clothes. Clearly, I had some master plan last month that has managed to elude the me of today.

After that scare, I was happier than ever to be safely inside the warm embrace of Maxwell’s once again, ready to experience the brand new sounds of the Lee Ranaldo Band, who would be playing their third show ever to open the show. The set consisted of mostly new songs from Lee’s forthcoming Matador solo joint, but the stage was filled with familiar faces: fellow Sonic Youth, Steve Shelley on drums, and on second guitar, Alan Licht, Lee’s collaborator in the awesome live score-improvising, Texts of Light, who are not to be missed on the rare occasions that they play. It was a real treat to witness the birth of Lee’s new project, and experience his new songs while still in the flush of infancy (one song was written just a few weeks ago, Lee told us, inspired by attending an Occupy Wall Street protest). And if you know Lee’s other bands like I do, where he is just as likely to be using a mallet to strike the strings of a guitar that is suspended from the ceiling by a spring, as playing it in the conventional fashion, with a pick, and wearing a guitar strap, you might have been as disoriented as I was to hear this band of noiseniks gleefully unearthing a Monkees cover. My expectations pleasantly confounded, the band later became familiar once again, playing Sonic Youth rarity, “Genetic,” a song that’s available on a CD single from 1992, and also the My So-Called Life soundtrack. The set left me energized for the future.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

Once Lee and his heavy friends cleared the stage, it was time for one of my favorite parts of the show: when Georgia gets up on stage to set up her drums, accompanied by the band’s crack crew of techs (Gil, Mark, some other guys who have managed to avoid my requests for the prized post-show setlist) as they tap on mics and line-check to make sure all 500 pieces of gear on stage are plugged in correctly. I could watch Yo La Tengo set up and break down their gear all night long and never get bored, and perhaps if you’ve ever seen their Hal Hartley-directed video for “From a Motel 6” you know just what I’m talking about. I spent the setbreak ogling ins and outs, and making sure the hood of my sweatshirt had not been ‘cadoed. After a bit of confusion, with the band trying to hunt down the evening’s comedian, only discover he had been waiting patiently at the merch table the entire time, Ted Alexandro was brought to the stage for the comedy portion of the evening. He opened with a story that brought the evening’s second mention of Occupy Wall Street, proving once and for all that Yo La Tengo’s Hanukkah shows are indeed topical and relevant, especially to us 99-percenters. I really appreciated his defense of singledom, and agree: why settle for Blockbuster when you can hold out for Netflix?

After much laughter and affirming of life choices, Yo La Tengo took to the stage, starting the show off as a trio for the first time this Hanukkah with the breathtakingly gorgeous instrumental “Nutricia.” Just when I think I can’t appreciate James’s bass playing any more than I already do, they go and pull that one out of the hat. Goddamn!

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

What followed was what I regard to be the sweet crack of the hardcore YLT junkie, a heretofore-unheard-by-me alternate arrangement of YLT concert standard, “Sugarcube,” where the band once again managed to take a song I thought I knew inside and out and breathe brand new life into it. They would deploy such measures again with a re-imagined version of “Decora?” later in the set.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

Around the time when they reached into the wayback machine to pull out “Lewis,” a song off YLT’s second album, New Wave Hot Dogs, Ira complained that he was getting sick of sitting down. And sure enough, by the next song, he was standing at the Nord (fully programmed with all your favorite Ace Tone organ sounds) for “Periodically Double or Triple.”

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

Next, Alan Licht returned to the stage to front the band on “Doesn’t Anybody Love the Dark,” a song from Run On’s excellent 1996 LP, Start Packing (which I am listening to right now as I write.)

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

The next thing that happened was that the Hanukkah wish I didn’t even know I had came true when Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley joined the other four on stage for a return to the YLT songbook with “Last Days of Disco.” Despite the clutch of people on stage, not quite a minyan, but double the usual body count, the sixsome burnished this hushed song’s subtleties effortlessly, as though they’d been playing together all their lives, or at the very least, as though they had rehearsed — a luxury that many of this year’s guests so far have made sure to note that had been forgone. Whether this represents a new commitment to aleatoric music-making, or simply a running out of time, I am not complaining!

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

Next, Georgia stepped up to the mic, surrendering the drum throne to Steve Shelley, for a seasonal number, “Fourth Time Around.” When she sang the words of noted Jewish songwriter, Bob Dylan, “I didn’t ask for your crutch, so don’t ask for mine,” I forgot all about the “Norwegian Wood” Dylan-Beatles politics, and felt the words” immediacy right in my gut.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

Lee Ranaldo took a breather, and the best seat in the house, sitting right on the stage in front of James, to watch the band rock out a version of “Double Dare” with the addition of his bandmate on second drumkit, before the full crew returned to tear into one of the most powerful set closers, and proper segues of recent memory, wherein a taut and wiry version of Sonic Youth’s “Mote” was melded seamlessly into “Pass the Hatchet,” a beautiful pairing that contained at its center a startlingly magnificent noise jam whose crystalline sheets of noise had me thinking Wall of Sound thoughts, a reference to neither the Stanley Owsley-built multichannel sound system that the Grateful Dead toured with in 1974, nor the Phil Spector production technique, but its own wonderful thing. I am pretty sure it’s a piece of music that no one who was there to experience it (nor the hundreds who have already watched the video on YouTube not 12 hours later) will be forgetting any time soon.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

When Yo La Tengo were applauded back to the stage after a brief encore break, returning as they’d began, as a trio, I echoed the sentiment of Hanukkah diarist emeritus, Liz Clayton, who asked “What happened to the rest of the band? Those guys were good!” We were not, however, disappointed when the classic lineup satisfied the encore request of an unidentified crowd member from the previous night’s show to play “Andalucia.” They could have called it a night right then, and I would have left Maxwell’s more than satisfied, but instead they called John Cameron Mitchell up to the stage, who admitted to thinking Barry Manilow was cute before pouring his entire heart and soul into a stirring rendition of his crush’s hit “Mandy” (née “Brandy,”) a halfway-seasonal number (points deducted for an Irish mother) that left every hair on everyone’s body in that room standing on end.

photo credit: Liz Clayton // click for bigger version

What a way to end night three, the most magical and important of all the eight nights of Hanukkah. Thank you to Georgia, James, and Ira for entrusting me to report on such a special night. It’s all downhill from here.

All night long between acts, we enjoyed the sounds of Kid Koala’s mix CD, and all the proceeds from the evening’s ticket sales were donated to Clean Ocean Action, an organization dedicated to cleaning up the polluted waters of the New Jersey/New York coast, and who can probably use all the help they can get.

Night 2, 12/21/11
by Gaylord Fields

Bending the rules ever so slightly, Georgia was kind enough a few days ago to give me a tip that it may be a good idea for me to attend this, the second of Yo La Tengo’s 2011 Hanukkah shows. So yesterday when Ira asked me if I was willing to write up the proceedings for this diary, I realized they had Godfathered me.

Don’t misunderstand: I’m especially proud to be assigned the second night of the Jewish holiday, because it’s the most important one. After all, on the original first night almost two millennia ago, there was no “there” there, to quote Gertrude Stein. What’s worth placing pen to papyrus about one day’s oil burning for one day? It’s the second day’s odd turn of events that made Maccabee 1 say to Maccabee 2, “I don’t want to jinx it, but that oil has been burning a mighty long time. I’m gonna monitor this situation.”

photo credit: Stephen Hunking // click for bigger version

photo credit: Liz Clayton

The opening act was Yo La Tengo’s former practice space mates Spent, who reunited just for the occasion. The Jersey City quartet played forty-five minutes of superbly swell ones from their brace of mid-’90s Merge LPs, but not before announcing, “We are not Real Estate, though we may resemble them on occasion.” I need to find out more about Real Estate. They seem topical.

photo credit: Stephen Hunking // click for bigger version

photo credit: Liz Clayton

Tonight’s comedian extraordinaire, Bobcat Goldthwait, let us know during the course of his act that not only is he is not dead, but also that he is not Sam Kinison, Meat Loaf with a haircut or “the black guy who does the sound effects in the Police Academy movies.” Doesn’t matter, because his imitation of a plummeting aircraft didn’t need to be Michael Winslow realistic to sell the spit-takingly hysterical true story he closed his set with about almost dying while sharing a flight with a Special Olympics team.

The Bobcat’s now a respected filmmaker with critically lauded movies like World’s Greatest Dad under his belt and rarely does standup anymore, so he needlessly apologized for the datedness of his references. If he thinks he owed the room anything for making a joke comparing Henry Rollins to Sgt. Carter (older than this, and this), he is sorely mistaken. That phrase the fraternity of comedians use, “He killed,” applied in heaps.

photo credit: Stephen Hunking // click for bigger version

photo credit: Liz Clayton

Yo La Tengo were a bit sheepish about following that tour de force, even with Georgia talismanically sporting a “We Print Anything” T-shirt that had swamp pop singer-drummer Warren Storm’s name on it. No need to fret, as they arrived fortified with guitar assistance by the incomparable Smokey Hormel, whom someone should set up to do a weekly residence à la Les Paul somewhere. Starting off with a fabulous foursome of “Green Arrow,” “We’re an American Band,” “The Weakest Part” and “Here to Fall,” they set up the moment that got me the hot tip from Georgia:

photo credit: Stephen Hunking // click for bigger version

photo credit: Liz Clayton

photo credit: Liz Clayton

photo credit: Liz Clayton

Neil Everloving Innes! Ron Nasty, the Seventh Python, the Gonzo Bonzo (okay, they were all pretty gonzo) joined the band stage center to give us a master’s class in how to write and perform songs with wit, skill, heart and not a little vitriol for seasoning. Mixing Rutles classics like “Let’s Be Natural” and “Ouch!” with wry political takedowns like “Democracy” and the OWS 99%-sympathetic “Never Alone,” he was a paradoxically refreshing mix of pop provocateur and proper English gent. The Dadaist hoedown of “I’m the Urban Spaceman,” for which Ira got the medical all-clear to play the kazoo, was a perfect valedictory to this tiny taste of the man’s musical genius.

And being the gent that he is, Innes stayed put, lending a helping hand during the Yo La Tengo-centric rest of the set, including closers “Autumn Sweater” and an unrelenting “Story of Yo La Tango.”

photo credit: Liz Clayton

photo credit: Liz Clayton

And now The Godfather Request, Part II: Earlier in the evening, Ira asks me if I remembered the words to “My Little Red Book.” For the sake of the telling of the story, I replied, “About as well as Arthur Lee did” and not “Yeah, sure.” So I guess I’m to be the encore/room clearer. We had done the song during one of last year’s Hanukkah shows, so rehearsal, shmehearsal! When the time came, I braced one knee on the great Neil Innes’ piano stool and croaked my way through the Bacharach-David classic. Maxwell’s impresario Todd Abramson told me afterward that his dream of hearing the lead singer of the Novas fronting Love had finally come true.

It was more like a collective beautiful waking dream when Georgia sang one of John Cale’s loveliest, “Hanky Panky Nohow,” to end things on a less Cookie Monsterish vocal note.

photo credit: Liz Clayton

The night’s designated charitable organization was the International Relief Teams, which provides humanitarian assistance worldwide. A sign announced that the night’s mix CD was prepared by James. I was mostly relieved but also slightly disappointed to find out it was our very own Mr. McNew and not the ’90s Britpop band.

Don’t worry, brave Maccabee soldiers, about this being only the second of eight nights: Yo La Tengo are like that little pan of oil that could.

Night 1, 12/20/11
by Liz Clayton

There’s nothing a cub reporter loves — and fears — more than being tapped for that crack assignment. So when Ira tapped me (literally, he tapped me, it was awfully loud in Maxwell’s and hard to get people’s attention) mid-opening band to pen tonight’s inaugural 2011 Yo La Tengo Hanukkah show’s diary, I thought: I’ve made it to the big time! I’ve at long last been recognized for my true journalistic prowess! But no, I realized as the night unfolded like a delicious, marinara-soaked, breaded steak sandwich — I was selected by accident of birth, by my native Chicagoan-ness.

And once the night’s theme became revealed it did not relent. Chicago’s own The Sea and Cake took the stage first, in a loud incarnation of their raucous, poppy, measured take on post-Chicago-post-rock. Or was it pre? Speaking of Pre, I stood close enough to Sam Prekop during the set to get a glimpse of his now-signature lyric cheat sheets (please, people, stop stealing these from poor Sam) and guess what? The words don’t make any more sense written down than they do mumbled! As a Chicagoan questioning my own abilities to discern another native’s take on the local language anymore, I found this immensely relieving. The snappy set was over all too quickly, leaving the audience wanting more — and wondering, “is that lyric really ‘Fat Archer’?”

photo credit: Liz Clayton

Now, we all knew in advance that this year’s Hanukkah shows might feel a little different, so it was with stoicism we took Ira’s announcement that tonight’s scheduled comedy act — Hanukkah favorites Dennis Farina and Dennis Franz — had cancelled at the last minute. But as we’ve all seen before, Hanukkah miracles DO happen: their able sons, DAVE Farina and DAVE Franz, were able to step in at the last minute. Boy was I starting to feel at home! More Chicagoans in the house, asking tough, philosophical questions like “If Urge Overkill got into a van crash with Buddy Guy, which one would you save?” (And if you can’t figure out that answer for yourself, I’ll spare you their reasoned thinking.) Other similar dilemmas — The Sea and Cake vs. Chicago (the band)? Shellac vs. Mike Ditka? — only went to show that for sons who grew up in the spectre of such luminous talents as their fathers, they aren’t afraid to venture into psychologically haunting territory (including an impassioned plea against circumcision — I haven’t been this palpably uncomfortable since Marc Maron’s set last Hanukkah). A brief review of the night’s previous act pegged The Sea And Cake as “cumbersome”, or was it “plodding”, but if that’s the case, Farina and Franz quickened both the pace of the night and the pulses of the ladies. I just don’t understand — why was everybody making fun of their accents? Sounded normal to me.

photo credit: Liz Clayton

I’ve always sorta thought of Yo La Tengo as honorary Chicagoans, so when they took the stage it was almost like I was back at Lounge Ax again, only with even worse parking. Joined by longtime Yo La auxilliary force Mac McCaughan of Superchunk, the band launched quickly into a raucous “8 Days a Week”, followed by various bittersweet versions of bittersweeter songs like “Stockholm Syndrome” and “Tears Are In Your Eyes” before turning things Upside Down and screeching into a cover of Portastatic’s “Noisy Night” (man I forgot how great that record was!) Soon Mac and McNew were bolstered in Macness by Sea and Cake drummer John McEntire for a couple of numbers, balancing the teetering plaid quotient onstage back to something more equitable.

photo credit: Liz Clayton

photo credit: Liz Clayton

photo credit: Liz Clayton

After a Mac-guitar-heavy “Drug Test” and a skittery little arrangement of “Tom Courtenay”, The Sea and Cake’s Prekop and Archer Prewitt returned to the stage (plaid balance tips again) for a particularly intense version of “I Heard You Looking”. I know that Sam Prekop gives off an air of mild-manneredness, but his guitar strings were putting out some next-level, Satriani shit here. I believe I literally saw smoke coming off of his gentle, midwestern hands.

photo credit: Liz Clayton

photo credit: Liz Clayton

Though the band stayed on stage for another (“Our Way to Fall”), I’m going to count “I Heard You Looking” as the symbolic end of the first set — thus elevating the closing songs, in my mind, to true “second encore” status. And what better status to confer a cover of the Coctails’ “Abba Dabba”? Not only was Yo La Tengo lucky enough to get an appearance not only by ex-Coctail Prewitt — but they managed to track down the song’s original vocalist, T. Lance. I believe I heard actual glass break in the other room when T. hit that note… several times. Closing out the night, a cover of “Somebody’s in Love” put a period on the first chapter of this year’s even sweeter, extra-appreciated set of Hanukkah shows.

Though tonight’s charitable cause, New Jersey’s Roots and Wings, which helps young adults to transition out of foster care, was not specifically Chicagoan, it seemed worthy as all get out (and perhaps some teens transition from New Jersey to Chicagoland?). Thanks as well to Bob Odenkirk — Naperville, Illinois’ favorite son — for furnishing the evening’s soothing mix CD.

One crazy night down, seven crazy nights to go!

photo credit: Dawn Sutter Madell

Yo La Tengo 2010 Hanukkah Diary

Night 8, 12/8/10

Gudbuy T’Hannukah!

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 sixgame 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.”

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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!

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.”

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.

photo credit: Liz Clayton

photo credit: David Doernberg

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

It’s getting very near the end

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.

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.

photo credit: Liz Clayton

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.”

photo credit: Liz Clayton

The mix cd was Georgia’s. At Will Oldham’s suggestion, proceeds were split between the Sudanese Refugee Education Fund and The Roots of Music. We’d like to thank you once again.

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!

photo credit: Stephen Hunking

photo credit: Stephen Hunking

We won’t lie to you: we didn’t plan on an encore by Eugene Mirman. We had a last-minute cancellation, and Eugene generously and hilariously and tunefully saved our Delicious for Chanukah bacon.

photo credit: Stephen Hunking

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.

photo credit: Stephen Hunking

photo credit: Liz Clayton

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.”

photo credit: Liz Clayton

photo credit: Liz Clayton

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.

photo credit: Stephen Hunking

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.

photo credit: Stephen Hunking

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.”

photo credit: Liz Clayton

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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!

photo credit: Liz Clayton

photo credit: Stephen Hunking

photo credit: Liz Clayton

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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!

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.”

photo credit: Liz Clayton

photo credit: Liz Clayton

photo credit: Liz Clayton

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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!)

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.”

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.”

photo credit: Liz Clayton

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.

photo credit: Liz Clayton

photo credit: Liz Clayton

Thanks to Father Damian for the mix cd. We donated the evening’s proceeds to the Dravet Syndrome Foundation and the Valerie Fund. We’ll see you tonight.

*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.

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.”

photo credit: Liz Clayton

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.

photo credit: Liz Clayton
photo credit: Liz Clayton
photo credit: Liz Clayton
Gene — the professional’s professional — made us pose for a photo, and then we went home. See you tonight!

Yo La Tengo 2008 Hanukkah Diary

Night 1, 12/21/08

At 8:30, Oneida took the stage of Maxwell’s, resplendent — a word I rarely call on — in maroon sports jackets and amazing one-chord pummel. OK, they changed chords occasionally, but I’m going to have to insist on maroon. I won’t pretend I wasn’t somewhat concerned about their grasp of the holiday (wondering in the process if I was wrong about the name Baby Hanoi Jane connoting Jewishness) when they hit us with Mott the Hoople’s “Death May Be Your Santa Claus,” and a new original called “Supersonic Santa.” But their seasonal bona fides were demonstrated with an FCC-friendly version of Jonathan Richman’s “She Cracked” and their [popup url=”https://yolatengo.com/ylt/duvall.png” width=”587″]transplendent[/popup] set closer, “Hanukkah, Bitch” (containing the couplet: “This ain’t the season of the witch/ It’s Hannukah, bitch” — to which we offer a hearty amen).

supersonic oneida

We’ve been Paul F. Tompkins fans for as long as we’ve been Mr. Show fans, so it was a thrill to finally get him to take part in our Hanukkah shenanigans. He too had Christmas on his mind, but having told us about his 12 years of Catholic school, we couldn’t begrudge him that. Especially when it took the form of vivisecting his least favorite Xmas song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” He closed his set by recounting the most amusing moments of his mother’s funeral — a pitch-perfect example of stand-up simultaneously hilarious and moving. In a packed rock club. Remarkable.

We played night one as a quartet, accompanied by the great Janet Weiss on drums. Played a few seasonal numbers (“Eight-Day Weekend” and Barry/Greenwich’s “Heaven Only Knows”) and located New Wave Hot Dogs‘s “House Fall Down” in the section of our repertoire labeled Songs We Haven’t Played in 15 Years. A recent recon mission revealed that Blue Oyster Cult no longer do that bit where they all play guitar at once. So as long as that move was available, we snagged it for ourselves, with Georgia and Janet both axing it up during “Little Honda.”

todd barry was wrong

We asked Paul F. Tompkins if he had a Jewish song he’d like to sing with us, and he suggested “Ring of Fire.” The conflict between our desires to be accommodating hosts and to stick to the format were resolved when Paul promised to Jew it up a bit. He added a verse and chorus telling the story of Hanukkah, and Janet on the digital trombone was a holiday miracle of sorts.

welcome to hoboken

We ended the show with Mr. Britt Daniel on hand to sing some Jewish-penned favorites. “Public Image“! “Mother and Child Reunion,” the impact of which might’ve been blunted when some dullard started the song in the wrong key. A powerhouse “Me and Mr. Jones,” and a tear-jerking of “This Guy’s in Love With You” brought the evening to a most glorious close, if I say so myself.

me and mr. daniel

Tonight’s proceeds went to The Jubilee Center of Hoboken, as suggested by Matt from New York

Night 2, 12/22/08

Eight nights of gala entertainment don’t just grow on Hanukkah bushes. For months, we ask performers far and wide if they’d consider taking part, irrespective of the unlikelihood of a “yes.” In the process, we acquire quite the collection of nicely-worded no’s — though it’s true, not everybody takes the time to reply. And then out of the blue comes a response like the one from the Magnetic Fields, and the next thing you know they’re taking the stage at Maxwell’s. Squeezing an upright piano amongst our bric-a-brac meant that Stephin Merritt was positioned all the way on stage left, obscured for many by the p.a. column (and for many others by what one observer termed the “tallest audience in history”). They played a gorgeous set to a pin-drop quiet audience (the only interruption came when the back bar beer cooler spontaneously combusted). Might be hard for others to pick a favorite number, but not for me: I’m going with the old Sixths selection, “Movies in My Head,” as sung by the original Wasps’ Nests vocalist, Georgia Hubley.

For the second night in a row, the comedy set zeroed in on holiday music. In fact, John Hodgman even claimed to be wearing the suit that Paul F. Tompkins left behind Sunday night, as he exposed the dirty (and I do mean dirty) secret of sexy Christmas songs. Not satisfied to enumerate “Christmas Is Coming” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Sana Claus,” he whipped out a ukulele and closed with a version of Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby.” Suffice to say, one can expect a spike in the local birth rate nine months from today.

alcoholic eggs

We took advantage of the real live piano by opening with the alternate version of “The Weakest Part” and inviting Claudia Gonson and Sam Davol to sit in while Georgia tinkled the ebonies and ivories on “Don’t Have to Be So Sad.” If you’re scoring at home, we did “Guess I’m Falling in Love” (one from Column Jewish Songwriter) and “Five-Cornered Drone” (one from Column Rarely Played).

Stephin Merritt graciously agreed to take part in the encore, despite his ear woes. His only request was that he be accompanied by just one of us, and that the accompaniment be extra sloppy. I’m no doctor, but I was happy to comply on a way off the cuff version of Irving Berlin’s “Be Careful, It’s My Heart.” Next we invited Doug Gillard to join us for a few tunes, starting with a surprise second Tin Pan Alley number, the Gershwins’ “A Foggy Day.” Graham Gouldman’s “No Milk Today” followed, complete with Doug on official nylon-string guitar intro! And then it was the Dictators’ “Next Big Thing.” Did it really take us six Hanukkahs to do this one?

be careful, it's my ear

happy birthday, doug!

We try not to repeat ourselves from year to year, but there are some performers that are simply unstoppable. And so, for the third consecutive Hanukkah, we ended one of the nights with my mom singing “My Little Corner of the World.” It is this completely unbiased chronicler’s opinion that she knocked it out of the park. Not only that, she’s the only participant who can definitively tell us the correct way to light the menorah.


The night’s proceeds were split between Burma Border Projects of Worcester, MA, as suggested by Paul from Brooklyn, and the Burmese Refugee Project of New York NY, as proposed by Celina from Brooklyn. Additionally, in my haste to appease some impatient members of the on-line community, I neglected to mention our third annual collection of mix cd’s, put together by James. Opening night’s was compiled by Aesop Rock and night two’s was by Steve Shelley. Nor did I thank Liz Clayton for all the photos. Thanks, Liz!! See you tonight!

Night 3, 12/23/08

If you love Steve Coogan even half as much as we do, then you’ll know why we spent the hour from 7:30 to 8:30 updating each other “they’ve reached the Chiswick roundabout,” as our designated driver Brian — John Zorn and a string-changing Marc Ribot in tow — re-enacted Knowing Me Knowing You With Alan Partridge‘s attempt to have Roger Moore as a guest. But in true modern Hollywood fashion, our remake had a happier ending. Roger Moore may have been stuck in transit from Heathrow so long that he missed the show entirely; Zorn and Ribot, on the other hand, arrived from their Lower East Side to Maxwell’s jaunt just a few minutes late (that’s a guess — I was too nervous to actually consult a timepiece), and shortly thereafter were blowing our minds with improv highwire. And then they were gone, just like that. Poof.

Slovin & Allen were next, hopeful that it would go better than the last time they followed John Zorn. Though inexplicably light on Christmas material, they were no less informative than John Hodgman was the night before. Slovin & Allen have recently immersed themselves in the written works of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and read some illuminating excerpts from those books. They concluded their set with one of the most astonishing pieces of comedy I’ve ever witnessed–a breathtakingly choreographed and heart-stoppingly hilarious bit about coping with tragedy and comedy’s role in that, specifically September 11th. . . . And the Hindenburg.

We invited Smokey Hormel to sit in with us, and opened the set with a selection from the score we did together for Old Joy, previously unplayed live. I thought “Don’t Say a Word” came out especially well, with Smokey’s gorgeous slide work an excellent complement to Georgia’s singing. On the other end of the sonic spectrum, we took “Out the Window” for a spin, and played “I Heard You Looking” for the first time this week, with Why?‘s Yoni Wolf on organ. The Jewish favorites were “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (like us, Smokey contributed to the I’m Not There soundtrack), Neil Diamond by way of the Monkees’ “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” (Smokey can also be heard on Neil’s American Recordings sessions), and a tribute to the late Robert Mulligan with the Dictators’ “Stay With Me” (we’ll let you puzzle that one out).

The concert was for the benefit of Seacology, out of Berkeley, California, and thanks to Emily from Maplewood for the idea. The mix CD was courtesy of WFMU‘s Gaylord Fields. Liz took most of the photos. Unfortunately she got in over her head with on-line poker during the Zorn/Ribot set, but Stephen Hunking was able to provide a couple of action shots, just to prove that it really existed. See you tonight.

Night 4, 12/24/08

Performers differ when it comes to preparation. The band prayer skyrocketed in popularity around the time of Truth or Dare. While on tour with Why?, we always knew they were about to go on when we heard (Tuesday night’s guest) Yoni Wolf singing Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire.” And then there’s Jennifer O’Connor, who spent a contemplative three hours in Holland Tunnel traffic. That would leave me useless, but hey whatever works. She turned in an exquisite set to open night 4 and, not to peek too far behind the curtain, I think she was able to summon up an extra dollop of poignancy when she needed it by recalling that jerk who wouldn’t alternate merge. Beautiful version of Carole King’s internationallybeloved classic “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”!

It’s the season of giving, and so it didn’t seem completely inappropriate for North Jersey Prilosec salesman Mark Levinsky (aka Jon Benjamin) to be flinging free samples into the audience. In the process we learned a few things about heartburn, which I guess falls loosely into the category of useful information, and about how Levinsky became a father, which I’m pretty sure everybody in the audience is trying to forget as fast as possible.

Jon Glaser was unfortunately sick in bed and couldn’t make it. But he did send a letter for Jon Benjamin to read, accompanied by a photo and a six-foot sub (which turned out to be one foot, but we’ll blame that one on Blimpie’s). It’s the thought that counts, but I will confess to not expecting the references to the audience as “dumb fucks,” “dickheads” and “fucking losers.” We’ll chalk it up to just how bad he’s feeling, and hope for a speedy recovery.

For the first and maybe last time this Hanukkah, we played as a trio from start to finish. Opened with the quiet version of “Big Day Coming,” featuring Georgia jamming on the guitar. We played a let’s-see-if-we-remember trifecta with “Tiny Birds,” “Paul Is Dead” and “Shadows,” and saluted the night’s mix cd compiler Russell Mael with a cover of Sparks’ “Angst in My Pants.” Inspired by Jennifer O’Connor, we too played a Carole King number, “I Gotta Dream On,” which on further review turns out not to be a Carole King composition at all! Was written by Gary Gordon, something of a mystery man on the internet, so we’ll just take it on faith he’s Jewish too and leave it at that. Took a couple of requests for “Detouring America With Horns” and “Cherry Chapstick,” the latter of which we audibled into a quiet version, and then closed by coming full circle: Georgia singing about “jamming on a guitar” on Jan Terri’s barn-burning “Rock N Roll Santa.”

Thanks to John from Portland, Oregon who suggested that Mercy Corps be the night’s charity. This post may be conspicuously photo shy when you see it. Liz is back home in Indiana, and Stephen couldn’t make it last night, either. We entrusted the job to a teenaged volunteer who sadly didn’t approach the sending of the photos with the same gusto she has for text messaging. We’ll add them when they arrive. See you tonight!

Night 5, 12/25/08

Twenty-four years and twenty-three days after we first shared the Maxwell’s stage (our very first show), Antietam opened night 5 in stellar fashion, and you know I’m not just saying that because I was helping out on piano and organ. They mostly played songs from the amazing Opus Mixtum, but also managed to touch all the holiday bases with guest singer James dueting with Tara on “Christmas Never Comes (When You’re Alone),” which Josh wrote for Tralala, followed by Graham Gouldman’s “For Your Love,” with both Georgia and James on percussion (and me on faux harpsichord). A knockout “Stowaway” left everybody flat on their backs, in most cases metaphorically.

Fred Armisen appeared as singer-songwrtiter Joshua Rainhorn, and performed a number on piano catchy enough that he had the audience singing along with its “wine and cigarettes” chorus in no time. If you’re like me, you went straight to the bookstore to look for that Kierkegaard novel he referenced during the verse.

If Fred’s segment felt a little short, maybe he was conserving his energy, because he played the whole set with us, mostly on percussion, but also on guitar for “Little Eyes” and “Black Flowers.” He also split the singing with James on the latter song; in fact we came up with that arrangement only by Fred’s request. Somehow he even found the time, alleges one observer, to send a text message (although the photographic evidence provided is unfortunately Zapruder-like in its inconclusiveness). Like Antietam, our special material spanned the holiday spectrum: We opened with Big Star’s “Jesus Christ,” and played Sloan and Barri’s “Things I Should Have Said” and Carole King (this time for sure!) and Gerry Goffin’s “Take a Giant Step.” Tara played guitar on “Demons,” as she did when we recorded it for the I Shot Andy Warhol soundtrack, and “Deeper Into Movies.” Josh sat in (literally) on an ultrapercussive “Nuclear War.”

For the encore, we coaxed Cyril Jordan all the way from San Francisco to Hoboken to play a short set of Flamin’ Groovies songs. Georgia has been overheard calling the Flamin’ Groovies her favorite band ever, and I’ve learned the hard way not to argue with Georgia. We opened with “You Tore Me Down,” went back to the Teenage Head record for Jewish songwriter Randy Newman’s “Have You Seen My Baby,” and finished up with the 1-2-3 punch of “I Can’t Hide,” “Slow Death” and “Shake Some Action.” As Moby Grape put it so eloquently: pow pow pow.

note Gil

Thanks to Dawn and Max for tonight’s pictures, and to Leila for last night’s. The night’s proceeds were split between two New York City groups: New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), as suggested by Raquel from Jackson Heights and NYLAG’s Justice at Work Project, proposed by Elena from Queens. The mix cd was compiled by Georgia, who says that Fred was not texting, but consulting his notes about the next song.

Night 6, 12/26/08

Having Lambchop on hand to open night 6 was like having a holiday family reunion, minus the drama. There are multiple reasons why we’ve made record after record in Nashville, and one of them is certainly the chance to eat hot chicken with those guys. Their set was gorgeous, mixing songs from OH (ohio) with a few covers, some more aptly chosen (Bob Dylan’s “You’re a Big Girl Now”) than others (Kurt’s What State Is Hoboken In topical shoutout to Caroline with the Wedding Present’s “Kennedy”). Were it not for the music stand in front of him, you would never have guessed that James was a fill-in on bass.

We were very excited to have the one, the only Marky Ramone on hand last night. Though by his own admission no standup comedian, he wowed us with a bawdy joke about a trip to Manny’s, before turning serious and offering a prayer to the man upstairs, a prayer that did take a number of curious digressions into Ramones historical trivia. He followed that by reading an excerpt from his writing, not from his autobiography Hey Ho Let’s A Drummer’s Life, but from his erotic novel Lady Wainsworth’s Desires (to be published next Valentine’s Day by Scribner’s). He concluded his appearance with a mini-drum clinic, inviting “the guy from Yellow Tango” on stage. Only momentarily nonplussed to discover the guy was in fact Georgia, they played short excerpts of “I Just Want to Have Something to Do” and “Blitzkreig Bop.” Marky had just enough time to hit on Georgia before splitting to his car, where his wife was waiting.

We opened night 5 by — there is no other word for it — crucifying “Jesus Christ,” so started night 6 seeking redemption, and besides it gave us the opportunity to sing “Jesus Christ was born yesterday,” which I’ll bet is going to have Alex Chilton wishing he thought of that line when he hears about it. With William Tyler of Lambchop helping out, we did a mess of songs we hadn’t tried yet this year: “Did I Tell You,” “Song for Mahila,” “My Heart’s Reflection” and “Moby Octopad,” maybe a few more. Next we brought up Marky Ramone to play the Ramones’ “Babysitter” and Richard Hell’s “The Kid With the Replaceable Head” (Marky was a Voidoid too). Did we really forget to do a Misfits song? Afraid so. Closed with Roky Erickson’s version of “Heroin.”

Eight nights of Hanukkah would not be enough time for us to play all our favorite Flamin’ Groovies songs — that’s more of a job for Lent. So there was no way we were going to send Cyril Jordan back to San Francisco without an encore. We reprised “You Tore Me Down” and “Shake Some Action” from the night before, and added Dylan by way of the Groovies’ “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” “Second Cousin” and “Dog Meat.”

We donated the night’s proceeds to Zumix in Boston, as suggested by Jane from NYC. Dawn and Stephen took the photos. And James pulled triple duty: he made the cd, too! The end is in sight. As Homer Simpson said as he jumped Springfield Gorge: “This is the greatest feeling in the world!”

Night 7, 12/27/08

At some point during the planning stages of some Hanukkah, our pal Phil Milstein took a break from posing baseball and pop culture trivia questions to suggest we bring Willie Alexander to Hoboken to perform. It was hard to believe we had never thought of that before, but that’s why you have friends. It didn’t work out for whatever that year was, but last night there was not just Willie Alexander, but Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band, all original members (well, don’t know that for sure, but all of these guys) on stage at Maxwell’s, opening night 7. No clue when the last time he’d played the area was, could easily have been decades ago, but time has not made his music any more describable (and believe me, we were trying, long into the night). He did some of the classics (“Hit Her Wid De Axe” and “Dirty Eddie“), but not all the classics (no “Mass. Ave.,” no “Kerouac”), and some I didn’t know. If I had a nickel for every time I heard John Cameron Swayze mentioned in a rock song, I’d have a nickel, and I’d have pocketed it last night.

Whenever his busy schedule will permit it, we love to get Rabbi Alan Sugarman join us for his popular segment Ask a Rabbi. This year’s edition had a particular tension, falling as it did in the midst of the escalated fighting in the Middle East (which, to give you an idea of the bubble we occupy during these shows, we did not even know about until the rabbi started talking of it). Nevertheless the rabbi maintained his trademark good humor, correcting misconceptions about Judaism (actually invented in the 18th century, it turns out) and explaining why we love Chinese food so much (we don’t — it’s the Chinese themselves we’re fond of, for taking over the Jews’ hated immigrant status). The rabbi’s concluding remarks about the power of faith even amidst its seeming absurdities struck a surprisingly and appropriately (under the circumstances) somber chord.

We started our set with a reprise of “Sugarcube” (from night one) and then brought on David Mansfield to play the remainder of the set. We played a slew of quiet numbers, David adding preposterously amazing pedal steel to “The Cone of Silence” and “One PM Again.” “Let’s Be Still” was called for the first time in years, rearranged on the spot with both Georgia and me on keyboards. The Jewish songbook selections were “She May Call You Up Tonight” by Michael Brown and “Off and Running” by Toni Wine and Carole Bayer Sager, from the fab soundtrack to To Sir With Love. We turned up the volume for the end of the set, with David adding satisfyingly ferocious violin to “Mushroom Cloud of Hiss.”

We returned to the stage as a trio, to play the Customs/Lyres classic “Long Gone,” which we went to the trouble of learning before realizing that Peter Greenberg didn’t write it. (Gil Divine sat in on flashlight when my lyrics proved unreadable.) Then we invited David back, accompanied by Willie Alexander. Figuring that the only thing better than one Michael Brown song was two, we cajoled Willie into singing “Walk Away Renee,” as heard on The Boston Incest Album, for what turns out to be the first time since he recorded it. He expressed some trepidation, but it sounded amazing to me. Then we went back to his ’60s group, The Lost, for “Maybe More Than You,” suggested by Todd-o-phonic Todd. It was hard to believe we hadn’t thought of that before, but that’s why you have friends. We bid a fond farewell to David, and finished up Willie’s encore with his arrangement of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” There’s a special feeling that comes from playing a song you’ve heard on record for 25 years with the guy who made that record, and I hope you all get to experience that at one time or another.

To close the show, we brought David Cross back on stage. Figuring the only thing better than one song from the To Sir With Love soundtrack was two, he sent us home with a tear in our collective eye with his tender version of the title song.

The charity for the night was the Community Partnership School of Philadelphia , as suggested by Joseph from Philadelphia. Stephen took the pictures. It was my turn in the mix cd hot seat. Final countdown, baby!

Night 8, 12/28/08

I hold in my hand the final Hanukkah recap. At 8 pm, Joe Puleo added the final touch to his Larry King menorah, and at the stroke of 8:30, Zooey Deschanel‘s mix cd was turned off. Metal Mountains took the stage to perform a mesmerizing set, all of which we hope to hear on their forthcoming release on Amish. Helen kept apologizing for one thing or another — none of which discernible to this listener. In fact, the only thing she left out was the one thing we were upset about: We had no idea they were going to be so punctual, and as a result missed the beginning of their show!

It wouldn’t be Hanukkah without an appearance by Todd Barry, and it was most certainly Hanukkah. Todd congratulated the audience on winning the lottery by getting to see him (because no one knows who’s going to play when they purchase their tickets), and then turned in a hilarious set of material, both old and new. And when we say new, we mean it: an anecdote told at dinner became a brand-spanking-new Todd Barry bit. Breaking tradition, he could find nothing to mock in night 8’s charity, the Common Sense Foundation of Durham, North Carolina (suggested by David from Durham), but true to form did not leave the stage before taking issue with nearly every guitar, amplifier, and other piece of equipment of ours. He did go unusually easy on the drum kit, I wonder why.

We opened with the Beatles‘ “Not a Second Time,” reworked into a holiday-appropriate “Not a Ninth Time,” then came “Let’s Save Tony Orlando‘s House” and a bunch of other songs, most of which were being heard for the first time this week. Team Metal Mountains joined us for the middle of the set, and I thought they were especially stellar on “Fourth Time Around” and “Saturday.” With the help of P.G. Six on guitar, we sang “The Way Some People Die,” one of “Dave Schramm‘s contributions to Ride the Tiger, which was planned without knowing that Dave would be in attendance. (Had James ever played that song, we were asked later. A: I don’t think so.) We closed with “Eight Days a Week.”

We took a few requests during the encore: a last run-through of “Autumn Sweater” and a one-night-only “You Can Have It All.” Georgia strapped on a guitar for Blue Oyster Cult’s “This Ain’t the Summer of Love,” vacating the kit for the drumming dynamo that is Todd Barry. Finally, Georgia sang Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” and if there was a dry eye in the house, it wasn’t mine.

So many thank yous . . .

Just in case it hasn’t been obvious, these shows are being worked on in pretty much every waking moment, and not just by Georgia, James and me. Our crew — Joe, Gil and Mark — were in constant motion, and Suzanne and Brian took on an unhealthy workload as well, especially in preparation for this week. I want to thank Stephen Hunking again for the t-shirt designs and photos (including today’s). Todd Abramson and everyone at Maxwell’s make us feel so welcome, and that’s really saying something, as anyone who’s ever had a house guest for eight days can attest. See you next time, if there is a next time. Happy Hanukkhah.

Yo La Tengo 2007 Hanukkah Diary

Night 1, 12/4/07

Hanukkah 2007 began at sundown on December 4. Our first show at Maxwell’s began at 8:30 when Versus took the stage. But the gift-giving season started an hour or so earlier for Jon Glaser when he learned that his Detroit Tigers had landed Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, indeed.

Versus were a near-miss for our 2005 holiday lineup, and we were thrilled to have them kick off this year’s festivities. They played a song by OMD, which not only didn’t I recognize, but it was nearly over before I put it together that those initials meant Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (Spellcheck be damned, I at least know how to spell the group’s name, even if I can only come up with two of their songs). Who knew they were Jewish? A sucker for the hits, that’s me, so I was particularly taken with the one-two punch of “My Adidas” and “River.” One complaint: Fontaine nearly but didn’t quite tell the joke about two peanuts walking into a bar and one was a salted. Other than that, like John Candy’s Pavarotti before me, I’m a happy guy.

Jon Glaser and Jon Benjamin’s 2005 Hanukkah appearance as the Brothers Italiano provided that year’s theme song, “Whatsa Matta with a Meatball,” and two years later, the very sight of them in the audience was inspiring some people to start singing it all over again, and I’m not talking about Georgia, James or me. Throwing popular demand to the wind, as is their wont, they appeared as Dave Franz and Dave Farina, the sons of Dennises Franz and Farina, and brought the house down with their telling of the story of Hanukkah. Things got a little tense when the topic of circumcision was raised (Dave was for it, while Dave considered it an abomination), though they found common ground over their fatigue (Dave had been up since 5:20 building a fort with his young son, and Dave was still suffering jetlag after arriving on the redeye from Chicago).

At about 10:30, we were coaxed from Maxwell’s luxurious dressing room, and made our way to the stage, resplendent in our finest Mardi Gras regalia, courtesy of our pals Dave and Sarah, throwing beads and chocolate Hanukkah gelt to the audience. Of course in the dark back room, it all fell to the floor, but–try to remember this homily all month–it’s the thought that counts. Our set began with James “Hanukkah Time” McNew’s version of Al “Carnival Time” Johnson‘s classic “It’s Hanukkah/Carnival Time,” complete with Mike, Steve and Jeff on horns. (We were too busy to get their last names!) James Baluyut from Versus withstood the gale-force winds on stage one more time to sit in on “Damage.”

For the encore, we were joined by Kim, who was able to come to Hoboken despite being in the witness relocation program. Bearing a passing resemblance to Jon Glaser, he performed a stirring version of “Autumn Sweater.” Then it was time for Mark Arm, who poured it on for a five-song tribute to the great punk-rock Jewish songwriters: the Circle Jerks (“Operation”), Vom (“Too Animalistic”), the Clash (“What’s My Name”–co-written by Keith Levene, now don’t you feel bad for doubting us?), Van Halen (“Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love“) and Kander and Ebb (“Life Is a Cabaret“).

See you tonight. Thanks to Liz for the photos. It’s too late for you to pick up last night’s Matmos mix cd, but who knows what James has planned for tonight? Well, James does, I guess.–Ira

Night 2, 12/5/07

If the holidays are a time for getting together with loved ones, then I can’t think of a better way to start night two of our little shindig than with the Clean. I have a vivid memory of riding toward the Lincoln Tunnel–this is something like 20 years ago– listening for the first time to a pre-recorded cassette of Compilation that a friend thought I’d like, and flipping my lid. Speaking of lids, the Clean’s were topped with black wigs, and had lots to say between songs, much of it profane. They opened strong with “Hold On to the Rail,” “Side On” and a world premiere “Factory Man,” and ended even stronger, with a triple play of classics–“Point That Thing Somewhere Else,” “Tally Ho,” and their Jewish number “Beatnik”–before closing with a gorgeous “Safe in the Rain.”

John Oliver was up next. We had never seen him do standup before. He talked a bit about walking the picket lines (as a Daily Show writer, he’s currently on strike–go Writer’s Guild!) and a lot about world affairs, both current and historical. If I had heard anyone talk about the British Empire so hilariously when I was younger, I’m sure I would have listened a lot more intently. An amazing anecdote about a childhood wardrobe malfunction was such a natural set closer that it was momentarily hard to believe he was still up there. Until he explained that the traditional end of a comedy set bores him, and he’d rather end on an uncomfortable pause–I knew we were going to love this guy. Someone in the audience had a question: Was John Oliver the voice of the Geico Gecko? That’s the way you end a comedy set. And the answer is no. (I’m pretty sure it’s Noel Gallagher.)

We started with “Green Arrow” and our holiday version of the Gary U.S. Bonds/Heartbreakers classic “Eight Day Weekend.” Hamish Kilgour joined us for the set-ending trio of “Deeper Into Movies,” “Big Day Coming” and “Little Honda.” During the encore, we were joined by David Kilgour, Robert Scott, and visiting dignitary Mac McCaughan. We did a few Jewish numbers (“Blitzkrieg Bop” and T.Rex’s “Solid Gold Easy Action”) and a couple of our favorite David songs (“Seemingly Stranded” and the Dovers’ “What Am I Going to Do,” as covered so poignantly by David and Martin Phillipps with the Pop Art Toasters.)

A delightful evening, we hope you’ll agree. See you tonight.–Ira

Night 3, 12/6/07

I’ve said it before, and I said it onstage last night, and I’m saying it again: Without the dB’s, it’s unlikely there would be Yo La Tengo. I’ll save the many reasons for the Director’s Cut of this diary, but suffice to say that sharing a stage with them on Thursday night was exciting and emotional beyond reason. Back to the classic quartet for the first time since their comeback shows, they opened with “We Were Happy There” from Repercussion. What followed was incredible. Some of the hits, of course–“Amplifier,” “Neverland,” “Love Is for Lovers,” “Dynamite,” “Big Brown Eyes” . . . who am I kidding, all their songs are hits in my book. And a selection of oddities– “Soul Kiss”! “You Got It Wrong”! “Christmas Time” revised to “Hanukkah Time”! “Excitement”!–that had me choked up from start to finish. They’ll be at Southpaw tonight, and so would I if I weren’t otherwise occupied.

In addition to being hilarious, so far the comedians this year have been exceptionally informative. In the wake of John Oliver’s history lessons, Eugene Mirman offered more in the way of helpful hints (although as on Tuesday night, the story of Hanukkah was recounted–I did notice a few discrepancies between Eugene’s version and that of Dave Franz and Dave Farina). Apparently–and I had no idea–when a bear attacks you, you shouldn’t play dead. If a bear attacks you in San Francisco, so much the better, you can just run downhill. It wasn’t all how-to stuff: Eugene also offered the harrowing tale of having the gas to his stove cut off.

We started our set with “Nuclear War,” and then went right into “Five-Cornered Drone,” produced on record by Gene Holder. We reprised “Mr. Tough” from night one, and when we got to the line about Todd-o-phonic time, a cheer went up from Todd-o-phonic’s many fans in attendance, a number that was swelling with each minute that his fab mix cd played. Gene joined us on guitar for “Cast a Shadow” (which he also produced), and along with Chris on organ and Will Rigby on drums for “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” Chris played guitar on “No Water,” just like he did on New Wave Hot Dogs. Peter Holsapple had to go home, so tour manager extraordinaire Joe put down his cricket bat and played Ace Tone on “I Heard You Looking.”

For the encore, Chris came back for our tribute to A Question of Temperature/V.O.T.E, the record we back him on. We could have done “Shapes of Things,” but it wasn’t written by a Jew, so we did “Heart Full of Soul” instead. Will sang “The Question,” from his classic Egon lp Sidekick Phenomenon. Then it was time for our surprise guest Jim James. He totally killed on “Solitary Man,” “Secret Agent Man” and the show-stopping (quite literally–it was the last song) “Hard Luck Woman.”

This is exactly what Adam Sandler meant when he named that movie Eight Crazy Nights. — Ira

Night 4, 12/7/07

Speaking of the dB’s, the first time I ever saw Chris Stamey perform (and possibly Will Rigby, though I’m not positive about that) was in Alex Chilton’s band. It seems they don’t loom as large in the histories of the era as others, but for me Alex Chilton and the Cossacks were right up there with Television in the can’t-miss department. We were blown away to have him join us for night four’s encore.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First up were Endless Boogie. Careful readers of this diary may have detected a lack of complaining. Anyone who knows me knows me as a glass-half-full kind of guy. But I’ve got to lower the boom on Endless Boogie. Like Homer Simpson, I hate being lied to in song, and “Endless” Boogie actually played three songs during their 45 minutes. Where’s that at? OK, I’ll concede that all three were monstrous heavy grooves with the excess in all the right places. It pained me to miss a portion of their fantastic set, but a menorah emergency claimed some of my time.

It should come as no surprise that we at Yo La Tengo inc. are lovers of tradition, and one of our favorites is Todd Barry making fun of our charities. Tonight we were supporting the work of the Ponderosa Stomp, who are doing incredible work bringing America’s all too secret musical history to light. Or as Todd put it succinctly–“I’m doing a concert for free, so other people can get paid to play a concert.” (I put that in quotes for dramatic purposes, but it’s more of a paraphrase.) He was hilarious . . . and he has lovely hazel eyes.

“Detouring America with Horns” and “Evanescent Psychic Pez Drop” were among the rarely called numbers in tonight’s set. Jesper Eklow from Endless Boogie joined us at the end for our version of Roky Erickson’s version of “Heroin.” We closed with Big Star’s “Take Care.”

We took the stage for the encore with Alex. Correction, we thought we took the stage for the encore with Alex, but it turned out he was running a little late. We killed time effortlessly–truly, I doubt anyone guessed that anything was amiss. And then Alex arrived. We started with the Skeeter Davis by way of Carole King number “Let Me Get Close to You,” followed by the Kinks’ “Till the End of the Day,” which you’ll remember from such compact discs as Sister Lovers. Next, we brought up Tammy Lynn, a powerhouse singer that we were introduced to through the Ponderosa Stomp. We took a stab at “Time Is on My Side”–if Alex had played that song before, and I don’t know that he had, he was the only one on stage who had. We did “Femme Fatale” and “Hey! Little Child,” and then brought Todd Barry up–another fine Hanukkah tradition–to play drums on the finale of “Jeepster.”

Thanks again to Liz for all the photos. Halfway home. — Ira

Night 5, 12/8/07

Counting among our most proud and most disappointing Hanukkah memories simultaneously has to be the Hypnolovewheel reunion we arranged in 2001, or as it’s known in these parts: the year Hanukkah broke. Proud because Hypnolovewheel were one of our favorite bands and it was thrilling to hear them play those great songs again. And disappointing because who among us didn’t think that they were going to look at each other, offer a collective “Pins and needles, needles and pins, it’s a happy man that grins. Now what am I mad about?” and make the reunion permanent? It didn’t quite work out that way. Never let it be said that we of the Yo La Tengo are not forgiving, because a mere six years later, we invited Stephen “I Dream of Jeannie” Hunking to open night five with his new group Dew Claw, featuring original Yo La Tengo bassist Dave Rick on guitar. Dew Claw have a couple of fine records out on the Geodesic label, but nothing that would have suggested their keen eye for fashion. With a front line clad in pajamas, they rocked the back room and we were the better people for it by the set’s conclusion.

After a delicate four-year negotiation, we were finally able to convince Sarah Vowell to make an appearance. Perhaps she was waiting for a year in which the comedy slot was so educational. She fit right in with what I’m going to go way out on a limb and say was the most entertaining story we’re ever likely to hear about a cartographer, the sad (albeit in a hilarious way) saga of Charles Preuss.

Our lucky star was shining last night. Day two of our menorah debacle was clearly straining our Jewish cred, but fortunately my Aunt Judith picked that night to make an appearance to share with us some of her Kabbalah studies. It’s funny what a difference context makes. it had never occurred to me until I got back to the Maxwell’s bleachers and looked at the stage how much my Aunt Judith resembles Amy Poehler, if only Amy Poehler owned a wig.

Our set featured the usual shenanigans–a few songs we almost never play, some old favorites, and a seeming eternity when one of my guitar cables stopped working, only to mysteriously fix itself. We brought Dave Rick on to play our first single, “The River of Water,” then put Stephen Hunking in the back of the station wagon, and drove through the Midtown Tunnel for a two-song Jewish tribute. First it was Carole King’s “Sometime in the Morning,” sung by Stephen, followed by Blue Oyster Cult’s “E.T.I.,” sung by James, with monster guitar solos by Dave.

Alex Chilton was willing to come back for a second night of special guesthood, and we were thrilled to have him. We reprised “Femme Fatale,” “Let Me Get Close to You” and “Hey! Little Child” from Friday night, and worked up Brenton Wood’s “Oogum Boogum,” (as heard on Alex’s Set cd), an old Cossacks favorite, the Modern Lovers’ “Government Center,” longtime staple of Big Star’s repertoire T.Rex’s “Baby Strange,” and went back to Alex’s Like Flies on Sherbert record for the Bell Notes’ “I’ve Had It.” We even taught him a few words of Hebrew.

This is exactly what Dick Van Patten meant when he named that tv show Eight Is Enough. — Ira

Night 6, 12/9/07

This diary stuff’s a weighty responsibility. Did Anais Nin ever skip a day? Well, if so, all I can say is: take this, spy in the house of love. I’m back with another report. Night six got off to a rousing start when our pal Liz, who has already done so much for us this holiday season with her nightly photographs, succeeded where the combined efforts of Teams Yo La Tengo and Maxwell’s failed, and scored a replacement electric menorah. That’s a relief–we were skating on some thin ice, Hanukkahly speaking.

I almost plotzed when Redd Kross agreed to fly out here just to play Hanukkah. Almost as quickly as they agreed, it looked like they might have to bail. Guitarist Robert Hecker (“the only Scientologist in the group,” as Jeff McDonald introduced him last night. “That’s SCIENTIST,” Robert corrected him) has a teaching job that makes missing work very problematic, but when it turned out that Robert was willing to take the first flight home Monday morning and go straight to work, Redd Kross were back in. Thank you Robert and thank you Redd Kross! Man, what a show. They opened with two songs from their first ep (“Cover Band” being a seasonal selection, written by Greg Hetson), then “Linda Blair” from Born Innocent, and they never let up. They took Georgia’s requests for “Heaven Only Knows” (by the Jewish songwriting team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich) and “Look On Up at the Bottom” and pulled off a two-song Jewish tribute that was equal parts unlikely and incredible with songs by Anna Waronker and Peaches. And so much more.

Heather Lawless‘s comedy is like no one else’s, a stream of consciousness high-wire act of the sweetest self-laceration you’ll ever hear. There are barely any jokes per se. It’s just amazing to witness, and we were so glad to have her join our little cavalcade of whimsy.

It took us to night six to break out “Eight Days a Week,” which seemed an appropriate way to say hi to Redd Kross, who number Beatles interpreters supreme among their talents. Our weeklong revisiting of May I Sing with Me settled on “Out the Window” and I experimented with the concept of “Drug Test” played on a guitar with all six strings out of tune.

Redd Kross en masse joined us for the encore. We bid a fond adieu to Alex Chilton with “September Gurls” and then moved on to the wild world of the Jewish songwriter:
“Bus Stop,” “Who Loves the Sun” and finally “Calling Dr. Love.” I could have listened to Roy McDonald and Georgia play extended drum fills all night, but we had one more guest to bring up. In 2005, my mom concluded night one by singing “My Little Corner of the World” with us, as chronicled in that year’s Hanukkah diary. Sadly there was no photographic evidence of her appearance, which I thought was too bad, but qualified as circumstances beyond our control. My mom saw it another way, demanding another turn in the spotlight, and this time we’d better have photographers at the ready. She didn’t have to get all huffy about it–we wouldn’t have dreamt of not inviting her back.

Once again, she killed, and we all went home happy. — Ira

Night 7, 12/10/07

I wouldn’t say that we are limping to the finish line, no way. But the menorah situation is–there’s no other word for it–a disaster. Our just out of the box, brand spanking new model gave us 25 solid hours of electric candle action before bulb seven gave up the ghost. I can’t claim to know that much about Judaism, so someone else is going to have to answer this theological query: Is it possible we are rocking Hanukkah too hard?

A few weeks ago we were at the David Kilgour/Euros Childs show at Union Hall, where we saw Carl Newman in the audience. That gave us a terrific idea–let’s ask Carl to join our Hanukkah hit parade and do one of his rare solo shows. Carl had a better idea–why not bring the entire New Pornagaphers? And so that’s what he did, to open night seven. Things were going along just great, until they pulled ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down” out of nowhere, and then things went along even greater. These days the New Pornagraphers have a schedule busy enough to rival ours. Ten minutes after they left the stage they had vanished into the night. We barely got a chance to say thanks.

It was quite the coup we scored getting top comedian Peanut Butter to do a set. But I have to be honest–his timing seemed a bit off. More than a few times, he finished a joke, only to back up to add a key part of the setup. And he did tell the one about the flat tire at least twice, which was weird. Luckily, a hilarious member of our audience came to his rescue, throwing one piece of scintillating repartee after another toward the stage. Seriously, what are people thinking when they do stuff like that? “I’m making the evening better?” You’re not. “I bet I can be the most annoying person in the room?” Next time, we’d be willing to take that on faith. But ultimately what heckler could bear up under the relentless one-two punch of Peanut Butter’s twin catch phrases: “Smooth . . . peanut butter” and “chunky . . . peanut butter.” Only one thing was bothering me–I kept thinking that Peanut Butter looked just like someone else, and it was driving me crazy trying to remember who. Then it hit me: Vin Diesel’s brother Leonard.

We roared out of the gate with the Black Flag classic, “Dreidel Party,” and played a whole bunch of songs we hadn’t tried yet this week, including “Magnet” and “Saturday” with guest percussionist Jon Wurster. Tonight was also the night for our annual version of “Mushroom Cloud of HIss.”

For the encore, we brought out our old pal Bruce Bennett to play guitar with our new pal, the amazing Roy Loney, original lead singer of one of our favorite bands ever, the Flamin’ Groovies. When we heard Roy was coming to town to play the Norton holiday spectacular, we thought wouldn’t it be great if we could get him to come out a day or two earlier and play with him too. We started with “Have You Seen My Baby,” by noted Jewish songwriter (Academy Award winning Jewish songwriter, Roy helpfully added) Randy Newman–of the storied musical family: Alfred, Lionel, Carl–as heard on the classic Groovies lp Teenage Head. Then two more from that record–“High Flyin’ Baby” and the title tune–before closing with a “Slow Death” that was, at the risk of immodesty, quite nice.

Shame about the menorah, though. — Ira

Night 8, 12/11/07

Put a fork in us, we’re through! To get to the finish line we had to channel teachings from the solo careers of all four Beatles: “It Don’t Come Easy,” “All Things Must Pass,” Whatever Gets You Through the Night” and “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” And now that it’s done, it’s the words of the Dave Clark 5 that leap to mind: “Glad All Over.” Glad that it’s all over, for sure. But mostly glad all over to have had such an incredible eight nights.

With all nine lights ablaze on the menorah, the last night began with the second half of our tribute to Matador Records as recent signing Times New Viking roared to the stage. One of our best memories of 2007 is being introduced to these guys, and touring the midwest and northeast with them. So it was especially meaningful for us to have them on board for our last show of the year. They pulled out a couple of new songs and closed with their cover of Half Japanese’s “Thing with a Hook.” Love that band.

We were able to bring back an old Hanukkah tradition when David Cross took the stage for “Ask a Rabbi” for the first time since 2002. As Joni Mitchell teaches us, life’s a circle, and in a very real sense, our Hanukkah series ended as it began, as the practice of circumcision proved no less of a hot potato for Rabbi Alvin Silverman than it did on night one for Dave Franz. Or was that Dave Farina? A wistful moment came when the rabbi expressed an unmistakable desire to find out what his corn chowder would taste like with a little bacon.

Our set began with our shout-out to our adopted home, “Night Falls on Hoboken,” followed by one more romp through “Eight Day Weekend.” “The Cone of Silence” fooled everyone by worming its way onto the setlist, and we closed with the holiday’s lone version of “Blue Line Swinger” and “Love Power” from the soundtrack of The Producers (the real one). “That’s our Hanukkah” cried James at its conclusion.

But we weren’t done yet. We brought Beth from Times New Viking up to play a little piano (at least she thinks she was playing piano–seated in front of my guitar amp, she couldn’t hear anything but me) as we did one more shout-out to our adopted home: “Hungry Heart.” As the second verse began, Howard Kaylan (aka Eddie of Flo & Eddie–and noted Yo La Tengo fan!) took the stage to sing backup, just as he did on The River. Thus began a thrilling six-song spin through the amazing career of Howard Kaylan. We did the Turtles classic “You Baby” (written by the Jewish songwriting team of Sloan and Barri), the pre-Turtles Crossfires’ “One Potato Two Potato” (which 20 lucky attendees of Thursday’s show picked up on Todd-o-phonic Todd’s mix cd), “Love Songs in the Night” from Howard’s supercool solo record Dust Bunnies (another Jewish number, this time from the pen of the legendary Michael Brown), followed by one last seasonal number, T.Rex’s “Metal Guru,” sung by James, with Howard adding the iconic backup part just as he & Flo did on the original. For our last donut choice, we went back to the Turtles songbook for “She’d Rather Be with Me.” If there was a dry eye in the house, it wasn’t mine.

What an amazing way to end an amazing eight days. — Ira

So many thank yous . . .

In this public forum, we’d like to take the opportunity to thank our crew, Joe Puleo, Mark Luecke and Gil Divine for eight days and nights of hard work. Suzanne Despres and Brian Gempp helped us in too many ways to enumerate. Stephen Hunking designed our t-shirts, and Tannis Root contributed their time to print them. Karl Heitmueller designed the great poster. Thanks to Matmos, David Cross, Todd-o-phonic Todd, Eye, and Yoshitomo Nara for the mixed cd’s. Almost all the photographs on this page were taken by Liz Clayton, but Lee Greenfeld and Leila Rosenthal also did some lensing. Jesper Eklow loaned us an amp. We were costumed by David Doernberg and Sara Parks. And a giant tip of the yarmulke to Todd Abramson and everyone at Maxwell’s.

Yo La Tengo 2005 Hanukkah Diary

Night 1, 12/25/05

21 years of being compared to the Velvet Underground became worth it when Eugene Mirman opened his set by admitting that, though not a musician, he too was influenced by the Velvet Undergound.  In his case, they inspired him to become a comedian. And it turns out, he doesn’t even know “Take No Prisoners.”  The Mad Scene were great—listening to the twin guitar attack of Hamish Kilgour and Georgia Hubley brought me back to the old days in Dunedin that I never knew.

We took the stage in our holiday finery—James dressed as a rabbi, me as Santa Claus, and Georgia as, what else, Robin, the Boy Wonder.  If we weren’t related to the photographers who failed to get more than one in-focus photo of our costumes, there’d be one hell of a can of whupass being opened.  We opened with a couple of seasonal numbers, Madonna’s “Holiday” and Gary U.S. Bonds’s “Seven Day Weekend,” adapted for the occasion to “Eight Day Weekend.”  Hamish played a few songs with us, and he and Lisa Siegel sang a lovely version of “Je T’Aime,” but really when it comes down to it, the whole night is about my mom.  She tore the roof off the sucker by singing “My Little Corner of the World” with us, and naturally we have no photo.

See you tomorrow.—Ira

Night 2, 12/26/05

PG Six unveiled his big band, in what I like to think of as the classic Richard and Linda Thompson “Shoot Out the Lights” configuration: Pat Gubler and Debby Schwartz singing, PG and Bob Bannister on guitar, Steve Connolly on bass and Robert Dennis on drums.  (If you missed Robert last night, never fear, he’ll be back on New Year’s Eve with The Scene Is Now.)  Just when I thought I couldn’t enjoy their set any more, they closed with a cover of Television’s “The Dream’s Dream.”

Todd Barry’s got so many great new jokes that when he pulled out his classic about the smiley-face tattoo, it was like seeing Zeppelin go into “Whole Lotta Love,” only better, because I don’t really like Led Zeppelin.  He made fun of our charity, the city of Portland, and the entire front row.  Funny stuff.

I meant to mention this yesterday, but this year we’re selling mixed cd’s with all the money going to the night’s charity, one per night.  James arranged the whole thing.  We’ve each done one, and there are five guest mixes.  So far we’ve had Georgia’s and one by Jonathan Lethem.

We repeated “Little Eyes” from night one, but otherwise it was different, unless you count “Big Day Coming,” which got the acoustic treatment the first night and its classic (my new year’s resolution is to use the word classic as often as possible) loud arrangement last night, as the photos below demonstrate.  Pat and Bob joined us for the set-closing cover of Fairport Convention’s “Flowers of the Forest,” and then Georgia moved to the bongos so Todd Barry could demonstrate his finesse with the left-handed drum kit on “Jeepster.”  We finished with a two-song tribute to D. Boon: Richard Hell’s “Time” (sung by Pat) and BOC’s “Burnin’ for You” (sung by James, with me and Bob providing the harmony lead guitar).

See you tonight, and don’t forget to check out http://www.toddbarry.com.  Guess which sentence Todd Barry asked me to include. —Ira

Night 3, 12/27/05

Every time we put on these Hanukkah shows, we make a lot of calls and write a lot of emails, and try not to take the rejections personally (oh sure, Roger Waters has time to sit courtside at a Knicks game and jaw with Al Trautwig, but try and get him to come to Maxwell’s and sing “Porpoise Song” and suddenly he’s Mr. Busy).  A lineup like last night’s makes all the no’s worth it.  Tortoise came in from Chicago for an unpaid one-off, and we still can’t quite believe it.  Luckily we’ve got photgraphic evidence.

Next up was Demetri Martin, who brought along his Findings, poster-sized charts propped on an easel, and actually got the overstuffed back room, each and every person, to follow along, including me, and I couldn’t see a thing.  We not only laughed, but we learned a little bit too, like how to spell the plural of dildo.

We took the stage as a sextet, with Doug, Jeff and John McEntire from Tortoise, opening with “Bad Politics” (that’s what’s going on in this photo—Jeff’s hidden behind Doug, and Georgia’s jamming on the guitar just to the right of where the photo ends).  We did a few more songs together, then they started drifting off—I think the no-smoking request we’ve made for these shows did them in.  John Herndon came on and did a few songs too.  As Demetri pointed out during his set, you either thank someone once or you thank them a million, nothing in between.  Thanks a million to Tortoise.

And then Lenny Kaye joined us for the encore, on his 59th birthday no less, for a salute to his incredible Nuggets compilation, a record that almost singlehandedly created the genre of garage rock.  So many classics (that new year’s resolution’s working out great for me) and so many written by Jews.  We did “Night Time” and “No Time Like the Right Time” and hell yeah “Moulty,” how did we forget “Let’s Talk About Girls”?  For good measure, we did “Pushin’ Too Hard” (Lenny’s not positive, but pretty sure that Saxon was shortened from Saxonberg) and “Shock Me,” the b-side to the, yes, classic Link Cromwell 45 “Crazy Like a Fox.”  Lenny even referenced “Burnin’ for You,” unaware that James had sung it the night before.  A great night.

See you tonight.  And actually we never approached Roger Waters—who knew he had time to sit courtside at a Knicks game and jaw with Al Trautwig?—Ira

Night 4, 12/28/05

The poet Sting had a word for it: synchronicity.  First, Lenny Kaye mentions “Burnin’ for You,” and then last night the Sun Ra Arkestra blew our minds by referencing Georgia’s night 1 Robin costume with an insanely great “I’m Gonna Unmask the Batman,” complete with Michael Ray threatening to unmask George Bush and Dick Cheney.  What a set: “Neptune,” “Body and Soul,” “We’ll Wait for You,” and what was the name of that incredible opening number?

As Small Change’s mixed cd played over the p.a. the crew struck the Arkestra’s chairs and music stands in no time, setting the stage for Jon Benjamin and Jon Glaser aka the Brothers Italiano.  If you were there, you know the song you left Maxwell’s singing was “Whatsamatta With the Meatball.”  We lived and died a little each time Jon Glaser’s fake moustache lost traction with his real beard.

We opened with “Beach Party Tonight,” accompanied by the Arkestra’s Fred Adams and Michael Ray on trumpet and Dave Davis and Tyrone Hill on trombone.  They played most of the set with us, including a rare performance of “Out the Window.”  As “Little Honda” hit its peak, tenor saxophonist Ya Ya joined in the cacophony, and hung around for the set-closing “Nuclear War.”

For the encore we brought up our pal Stephen Hunking to play one of our favorites from the superior Hypnolovewheel songbook: his “I Dream of Jeannie,” which kicked off both Hypnolovewheel’s album Space Mountain and the reunion show they played with us at Hanukkah 2001.  Stephen’s designed every one of the shirts we’ve sold at our Hanukkah shows.

With all the excitement, we barely had time to acknowledge the achievements of the Jewish songwriter. Handsome T. Lance to the rescue.  He looked like a million and sang the Dictators’ “(I Live for) Cars and Girls” with all the gusto that his legion of fans have come to expect, all that and a chorus of “Whatsamatta With the Matzo Ball” to boot.

And as I type, Jad Fair’s plane is just about to land.  See you tonight.—Ira

Night 5, 12/29/05

Half Japanese—Half Japanese!!—took the stage, 5/6 of their, you know it, classic Loud lineup intact: Jad Fair, David Fair, John Dreyfuss, Ricky Dreyfuss, and Mark Jickling.  Mark’s son Ian on bass.  “Mary Jickling looks like Mona Lisa …” ohmigod it’s “My Concentration, Oh No.”  Seeing Jad & David up there again together, egging each other on in ever-increasing mayhem, I just don’t have the words.  Somewhere along the line, Ian split.  About midway through, Jad brought up Don Fleming for a completely mental “I’ll Change My Style.”  After Don sang “Vietnam,” we came on for the last eight songs, culminating—too soon in every way except for my aching saxophone-playing muscles—in “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and “I Walk Through Walls.”

Louis C.K. really got into the holiday spirit, telling one uplfting hilarious story after another about hating his kids, cutting off motorists in L.A. just for the fun of it, and texting Todd Barry to tell him he hopes his plane crashes.  He seemed to have some problem with talkers up front, but in back we were hanging on his every profane word.

After the last two nights of musical chairs, tonight we were back in trio mode.  We did two songs from May I Sing With Me for perhaps the first time this decade, and Jad sang two selections from our Strange But True collaboration (lyrics by David).  Closed with Roky Erickson’s version of “Heroin.”

For the encore, we somehow cajoled David Johansen into coming out to Hoboken and singing a few songs with us.  I’ve just scanned that sentence for typos, but nope that’s what happened.  We started with Bacharach/David’s “After the Fox,” originally performed by Peter Sellers and the Hollies, and continued with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich’s “Out in the Streets.”  We added our buddy Bruce Bennett on guitar for the Fugs’ “Doin’ All Right” (the only song we could think of to keep Louis C.K.’s set company), and then “Chinese Rocks.”  I’ve just got to take a moment and publicly thank David Johansen for agreeing to do that song, that blew us away.  We closed with “Who Are the Mystery Girls.”  It was a blast.  In the back room after the show, Gary Panter’s cd mix faded out, and us stragglers sang one more chorus of “Whatsamatta With the Meatball” and then went home.

We’re all getting a bit tired, but we’re going to collectively channel our inner Jerry Lewis and rock on. See you tonight.—Ira

Night 6, 12/30/05

I’m pretty sure none of the members of Volcano Suns are Jewish, so in a certain sense you have to admire their attempt at suffusing themselves in the holiday traditions.  But on the other hand, there’s a crucial difference between lighting a menorah and setting one of our amplifiers on fire.  Let’s let a smile be our fire extinguisher, for there was a lot to smile about.  The Volcano Suns got back together for the first time in seven years, and played outside of Boston for the first time in, oops forgot to find out.  Peter warned us he had ruined his voice the night before at their Boston show (if not during rehearsals), but this hardly unbiased observer thought he sounded great.  Get out your magnifying glass and check out the set list—they did all your old favorites (except “Sea Cruise” and “I’m Gonna Make You Mine” and “I Walk Around” and . . .)

We love to laugh, but sometimes comedians, even some of our favorites, can be so mean.  But as Raisin demonstrated, it doesn’t have to be that way.  Whether singing about his fondness for AC/DC and Black Sabbath, or his heartbreak in a candle-lovers chat room, his message was always optimism (my word) or rum titty pum (his). Raisin—who bears an almost uncanny resemblance to Late Night With Conan O’Brien writer/performer Brian McCann—is welcome on our stage anytime, but I can’t think of a more appropriate time than the holiday season.  Thank you, sir.

We were honored to have soundtrack (notably Heaven’s Gate) composer/former Alpha Band member/Rolling Thunder Revue participant/it’s a very long resume David Mansfield sitting in with us on violin.  We’d never met before he got to Maxwell’s in the afternoon, but to hear his beautiful contributions to our songs, you could have convinced me we were old friends.  We concentrated on the quiet songs, including T-Bone Burnett’s “I’m Coming Home,” a record David played on, and Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine.” Thanks to whoever yelled out “For Shame of Doing Wrong.”  For the encore, we asked Peter Prescott to shred the last remnants of his vocal cords on the Dream Syndicate’s “Definitely Clean,” and he generously agreed.

Don’t want to get all Dick Clark on you, but Happy New Year all the same.—Ira

Night 7, 12/31/05

One of our enduring memories of 2005 is sure to be taking part in The Scene Is Now‘s first-ever tour, so what better way to usher out the year than with a set from our longtime favorites.  They had lots of surprises, not all of them happy ones—Chris Nelson was battling major throat problems (which I thought lent extra poignance to their as-yet unrecorded gem “The Cold”).  Lianne Smith and Rick Brown joined in on tour highlights “Moonlight Broil” and “Hey, Skinny” respectively, and Amy Rigby sang along on “If Justice Hides,” one of my personal favorites unheard on stage for way too long.  And did they really cover Will Rigby’s “Dave”? You bet they did.

Fred Armisen was up next, demonstrating conclusively that there’s nothing a crowd likes better than audience participation, and that includes following instructions.  Federico Fabrizi had an easier time directing the citizens of Sevalio in After the Fox.  He closed with a moving tribute to Kraftwerk.

At the stroke of midnight, there was a surprise two-song set from Prince and the Revolution: “1999” (always timely) and “When U Were Mine.”

Members of The Scene Is Now joined in throughout our set, notably Greg and Phil adding just the right Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson touches to our cover of Dylan’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and Steve’s trumpeteering on “Center of Gravity.”  Fred came back to sit in on percussion for the second half of the set.  Rick and Sue did their seasonal favorite “Xmas Trip.”  We did two songs from May I Sing With Me for perhaps the first time since Thursday.  (See if you can spot the continuity error in the photos.)

The Scene Is Now (minus Steve) opened the encore with a terrifying “Let’s Compromise,” recorded by us way back on New Wave Hot Dogs, but written by Information (Chris and Phil’s pre-The Scene Is Now group, which also included Rick, who joined in the carnage as well).  Who could follow that except Wreckless Eric?  He and Amy Rigby helped us salute the Jewish songwriter, with Paul Simon’s “Red Rubber Ball” and a reprise of night one’s “Je T’Aime.”  We closed with our cover of The Scene Is Now’s “Yellow Sarong.”

Like Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, it’s getting very near the end.  See you tonight.—Ira

Night 8, 1/1/06

Did you know Lois was suffering from stage fright?  Me neither.  Fortified by copious amounts of Red Bull and Bosco, she turned in a stunning performance, as crushworthy as ever.  I especially swooned when she read my mind and sang “The 2nd Most Beautfiul Girl in the World,” from her very first 7″ (by the group Courtney Love).

The Maxwell’s stage—carpeted and filled with drums and amplifiers—might strike you as an unlikely place for a rollerblading exhibition, but you couldn’t be wronger.  The Fruit Boots, Patrick Borelli and Matt Hall, knocked us out with their trick packs and their insightful tribute to New Jersey.

What’s a celebration of Jewish songwriters without Billy Joel?  It’s an ugly job, but somebody’s got to do it.  Riding to the rescue all the way from “Germany” came A Matter of Trust: Todd Barry on drums, Jon Glaser on bass, Tom Shilue on backup vocals, James on guitar, and Jon Benjamin on lead vocals.

We reprised the opening night one-two punch of “Holiday” and “Eight Day Weekend” to kick things off, located a few more songs from our songbook as-yet unplayed, and finished up with “Eight Days a Week.”  For the encore, we brought back A Matter of Trust for a superstar jam complete with Todd Barry drum solo.  The three of us played our final trio number of the holiday, “Rocks Off,” then invited Lois to sing a few songs.  Accompanied by Bruce Bennett on guitar, we started with the Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil weeper “Don’t Make My Baby Blue.”  Exit Bruce, enter WFMU‘s Gaylord Fields and it was time for one more go-round with “Je T’Aime.”  And what a go-round: Gaylord’s candy Gauloises and Lois’s French-English dictionary were truly les props juste.  Lois finished the eight-day week with a beautiful version of “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” complete with a stellar whistling solo courtesy of stellar soundman Mark “Tom” Luecke.  Happy Hanukkah.—Ira

So many thank yous . . .

In this public forum, we’d like to take the opportunity to thank our stage crew, first and foremost Mark Luecke, for eight days and nights of hard work, but also Gil Divine, Jay Miller and Greg Peterson.  Stephen Hunking designed our t-shirts and sweatshirt, and Tannis Root contributed their time to print them.  Karl Heitmueller designed the great New Year’s Eve poster and printed up some extras for us to sell.  Thanks to Jonathan Lethem, Gary Panter, El-P, Small Change, RJD2 and Cornelius for the mixed cd’s.  Volunteering their time to man the merchandise table were Marilyn Kaplan, Emily Hubley, Leila Rosenthal, David Doernberg, Damon Chesse, Tony Gasparro, Laraine Pinnone, Amy Posner, Kelly Reichardt, Neil Kaplan and Andy Schwartz.  Photographs on this page were taken by Max Rosenthal, Leila Rosenthal, Stephen Hunking, Amy Posner, Emily Hubley and Lisa Ackerman.  We were costumed by Amy Posner and Sarah Egan.  Thanks to Todd Abramson and everyone at Maxwell’s.  We had a blast, and we’re really glad it’s over.