Live review

WoodKid + Yo La Tengo (EFG LJF 2021)

WoodKid + Yo La Tengo
(Royal Festival Hall. 17/19 November 2021. EFG LJF.  Review by AJ Dehany)

The Beyond Margins series at the London Jazz Festival presents artists who don’t usually appear in the pages of jazz. The dark electroacoustic chamber pop of WoodKid has little in common with the warm indie rock of Yo La Tengo, but both commanded the main stage of the Royal Festival Hall this week demanding that jazz audiences question where the margins of the music might lie in a scene where genres are found to be decliningly tenable.

Ira Kaplan, one third of cult US indie trio Yo La Tengo, was certainly excited to be part of a jazz festival, joking “It’s about time!” The band formed in 1984 and the familiar trio of Kaplan (guitars, piano, vocals), with Georgia Hubley (drums, piano, vocals), and James McNew (bass, vocals) has been going since 1992. I make a point of seeing them once a decade, whether I need to or not. It’s ten years since I last saw them at the Royal Festival Hall doing their “Reinventing The Wheel” tour, with the improvisatory conceit of using a giant wheel to randomly select songs to play. 

Yo La Tengo. Publicity photo

They opened in 2021 with the 11-minute Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind, which I remember them playing for twice that long last time – it’s mostly a three-note bassline going round forever over motorific drums with slatherings of guitar noise. My companion then found this noodling workout excruciating, but she was thinking all the while “I bet he is loving this” – which of course I was. It’s kind of catchy, and while their songs are usually considerably shorter and more well-formed, Hatchet showcases their signature style of loose grooves and cute, tentatively harmonised, gentle singing clashing with earsplitting guitar treatments. You forget that YLT are deceptively loud, and like to rock out. A cuddlier Sonic Youth, they are a guileless and hopelessly endearing band, and the concert was as ever akin to a big bubblebath of hugs. 

Taking to the same stage two days before, French video director, graphic designer and singer-songwriter Yoann Lemoinea aka WoodKid is a charming and vulnerable presence within a bombastic electroacoustic sound fusing electronics and live strings. Musically it’s a bit like Antony & the Jonsons meets Bond themes. In the presentation there are hiphop stylings with an elevated stage stage riser with drummers below, five orchestral players and intense computer-animated graphics behind, and spectacular lighting which is a huge part of the show. 

The judicious use of blackout punctuates a live event of theatrical impact for an engaged audience. WoodKid’s second album S16 is a dark chamber-pop song cycle that was partly written in London. His songs are necessarily personal, and a continuation from his debut album The Golden Age. His signature torch song Brooklyn has a diaristic, naive quality. A moving vulnerability is strikingly expressed in Horizons Into Battlegrounds, “Why do I love you more when I’m wasted? I only welcome care when I’m wounded.” 

WoodKid. Publicity photo

In an almost overwhelmingly powerful show, when he asked the audience “Where are my gays at tonight?” it felt empowering. “I know some of you guys forgot about me but I’m back bitchaaazz,” he said, though the compensations of a long concert were offset by a saturation in spectacle that didn’t quite sustain the emotional impact of the album. I was grateful to be there even though it was off the page of, never mind beyond the margins of, the book of jazz – but it was a show as raw and vulnerable as it was bombastic and sensational, that took its audience beyond the margins of the book of joy and pain.

AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk

Categories: Live review

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