Yo La Tengo / Euros Childs – Academy 2, Manchester, 7/11/09

November 12, 2009

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Euros Childs

Euros Childs went overground when his youthful, eccentric (and fitfully brilliant) band Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci signed a major label record deal in the late 90s.  He’s still writing eccentric (and sometimes brilliant) songs to this day, but now, they feature lines like ‘Write a song and send it off / Sign a contract and get ripped off’.

Elsewhere in a stripped-down set culled from the new Son of Euro Child LP (available for free here), Childs pays homage to bread (‘not the TV show or the shit band, the foodstuff’) and claims to have written another song whilst house-sitting for Ian McShane – then adorns a superficially inoffensive pop number, How Do You Do, with the lyric ‘If I had a monkey, he would shit in your shoes’, before shifting it into another world entirely with an unsettling, deliberately off-key chorus croon.

You have to wonder how this uniquely talented but musically wilful man ever found himself in bed with The Man – it’s about as logical as the remorselessly experimental Faust being signed as ‘the German Beatles’.  Still, the pioneering spirit of John Cale flows through Childs’ frequently delicious melodies (although there’s no attempt at the VU man’s granite-stern grandeur) and his restless creativity means that people will always have  time for him. Childs is a bit of a wizard in an era where magic doesn’t happen.  Long may he run.

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'Euros mate, I'm off to film another series of Deadwood - can you pop round and look after the yucca plant whilst I'm gone? Feel free to have a tinkle on the baby grand."

Yo La Tengo‘s spectrum ranges from the fiery (Ira Kaplan’s unhinged guitar storms are frequently unleashed tonight) to the delicate and restrained (Georgia Hubley’s perfect drumming and muted, reflective vocal style are also often permitted to shine, best exemplified by the new and beautiful When It’s Dark, which sounds gorgeous with just two acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies.)

Possibly the evening’s only clunker is Avalon Or Someone Very Similar, which swoons wonderfully on the new and excellent album Popular Songs, but fails live, because Kaplan simply can’t sing that high.  In fact, I assumed Hubley took lead vocal on the song and was very puzzled to see the grizzled guitarist attempting a strangled castrato – you’ve heard better vocal performances at a ‘showcase night’  on a wet Tuesday in the Night & Day.

Fortunately, this misjudgement aside, all is well. For the intellect, there’s the bloody-minded, hypnotic growl of More Stars Than There Are In Heaven, powered by bassman James McNew’s metronomic baritone guitar thrum.  Then Periodically Double or Triple, which drops in on the line ‘Never read Proust, seems a little too long’, before proceeding on a loose-limbed bent, incorporating a cheeky Smile-era Beach Boys interlude and a fifteen-second pause.

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For the indie rockers among us who want to dance, the frankly barnstorming Something To Hide provokes widespread delight, even without the killer organ riff that picks up and carries the chorus on the record.  Then there’s the timeless Sugarcube, from the classic I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One LP – as resplendent as ever – and a triumphant encore cover of Bob Dylan’s I Wanna Be Your Lover, with keyboards from Childs and his bassist Stephen Black (who performs solo as Sweet Baboo and played an excellent set at Fuel in Withington recently).  Kaplan teases the audience by saying ‘when we come to a city, we like to do a cover that’s connected, but we couldn’t think of any bands from Manchester’.  But of course, the legendary ‘Albert Hall’ (er, try Free Trade Hall) ’66 Dylan and The Hawks bootleg was recorded here.  Kaplan’s no Dylan, but the band whoop it up in fine style.

That capped it, or so we thought – but at the insistence of one totally determined audience member, the band stay on for one more, flickering through the candlelit, dusky You Can Have It All, an inspired reinvention of what was originally a George McCrae funk number.  It was a wonderful call from our friend in the crowd and I’m grateful for what followed – it was a special, rare moment of genuinely fine musicality.

Yet more much-needed magic to confound my cynicism.

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