Yo La Tengo - Bimhuis, Amsterdam - 11 June 2009

 

www.yolatengo.com

 

The Bimhuis is a strange and surprising venue. It looks like a giant breeze block sticking out of the side of the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ and to reach its main entrance you're required to walk up what feels like a large concrete gangplank.

 

With views out over the Ij, it's certainly in a prime location and modern architecture nuts will have a field day drooling over its walls of glass and huge, cavernous interior. It resembles nothing more than a cheesy sci-fi film set, all concrete and staircases but once you get into the venue proper the atmosphere changes completely.

 

The bar feels more like a trendy restaurant, with it's stunning view over the river and shiny chrome everything, but the main hall is the biggest surprise of the lot. When you think of jazz clubs you think of cramped, smoky cellar bars with blue spot lights and sweaty wallls. The Bimhuis is a world away from that. It resembles nothing more than a University lecture hall and yet it somehow felt like an appropriate setting for a show by The Freewheeling Yo La Tengo, as they were billed tonight.

 

Part gig, part chat show, the evening was a delight from start to finish. The band arrived with the minimum of equipment, a folder of lyrics and a carefree attitude. "We're not here to take your requests," said Ira, "But we are here to take your questions." "What's your favourite sweater?" asks some cheeky bugger in the crowd. "We'll come back to that one. Maybe," said Ira smiling.

 

The great thing about this format was that you truly had no idea what was coming next. With every question the gig took off in a completely different direction, "What time is it in America right now?," "Are you friends with Sonic Youth?," "How did you come up with the name for the ..Beat Your Ass album?," "Will you come back and play at my house?" There was even something about Singapore and Korea, although I missed exactly what that was. The answer did make me want to spend some time in Singapore airport though, it sounds cool.

 

Of course, there were a number of people trying, unsuccessfully I might add, to get a request played, but overall the atmosphere was jovial and relaxed and the band seemed in high spirits. What made it special, though, was the music and the way they allowed the questions to influence the gig. "What would you have played at Obama's Inauguration?" Big Day Coming "What's in the envelope?" "Lyrics" "Play one now." Georgia looks through the envelope. "No, we just have to pick one at random," says James. "What do you wish had been picked?" "I'm your puppet," answers Georgia. "Then let's do that one," says James. "What would happen if you switched instruments?" They swap instruments and play something. "Do you know any songs in another language?" James runs off downstairs and returns with a little notebook and they play a song in French.

 

The question of the night though belonged to the bloke who asked, "Why did you close the curtains?" Ira explained that they left that up to the venue staff, who then appeared out of nowhere and pulled back the entire black wall of fabric behind the band, revelaing a window and a view over Amsterdam and we spent the rest of the gig watching not only the band but also the city itself. Trains, trams, buses, cars, bikes, boats and people, all playing their unsuspecting roles in our evening's entertainment. It was a beautiful addition to an already marvellous evening.

 

This band are so talented they make everything just seem effortless. Even when it's obvious that they're struggling to remember chords, or lyrics, they manage to pull everything off and I was left in awe at just how talented they are. They've been together so long, there's a kind of telepathic link between them. They trust each other immensely, as musicians, and they prove just how powerful a three piece band can be. It was a pleasure to be present in their company, for this felt like something more personal than a rock show, and I took the train home smiling, trying to remember the beautiful rendition of Autumn Sweater as best I could. Truly, truly scrumptious.

 

Words: Damian Leslie