Geva Alon claimed that he was a bit nervous having to open for Yo La Tengo, but you never would have known judging by his intense, determined solo acoustic set. His voice is difficult to pin down, he would jump from Gordon Lightfoot's folksy drawl to Chris Cornell's gritty holler and then back again. His blustery, hold-nothing-back strumming perfectly complimented the emotion in his voice. At 25 minutes in length, his set was almost criminally short, but no less inspiring because of it.
Yo La Tengo hit the stage looking surlier and more businesslike than usual. The last time I saw them, which I believe was way back in 2003, they might have been wearing exactly the same clothes. I'm guessing that this first concert was the night of the "hits", while the second show (23/03) will be more of a freeform gig, with more cover versions and explorations into their back catalogue. YLT have always loved to jam, but they've always looked more comfortable playing the shorter, poppier songs. Ira Kaplan might get to mimic Lou Reed's guitar solo from "I Heard Her Call My Name" whenever they decide to go long, but that's a distraction that usually doesn't cover up the band's tendency to zone out a bit during these songs. A fourteen minute version of "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind" ןs the sort of thing you probably need to hear once (but only once and never again), but "More Stars Than There Are in Heaven" got better and better as it went along, building toward a brain-frying conclusion that gradually stripped away the volume and morphed into the lovely and solemn "Tears Are In Your Eyes".
Small quibbles aside, the band settled into their element by reeling off an impressive array of those shorter, poppier songs. The mood of their two-hour set (including two encores) was defined by these songs -- nine out of the first ten tracks from "Popular Songs" (i.e. all the short ones save for "By Two's"), the jaunty "Mr. Tough", and a lovely acoustic version of "Decora". They even yield to playing requests from the audience during the encores, including a brisk run through "From a Motel 6" and the mega-oldie "Big Sky". And who could possibly complain about hearing "Deeper Into Movies", "Nothing to Hide", and "Sugarcube" played back-to-back-to-back?