There comes a point in every music fan's life when you will be called upon to put years of dedicated work perfecting your vigorous head-nodding and foot-tapping techniques to a higher purpose, like helping sell Passats. Yesterday, this reporter was called up to the major leagues for an even better reason: to head-nod his migraine-addled brain like a Tasmanian devil on stage while Yo La Tengo rocked out Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. And because I have no shame, I was the only person wearing a "Yo La Tengo" t-shirt—a gefilte fish-emblazoned one to boot.
For the record, this had nothing to do with my day job—this was my seventh time seeing Yo La Tengo live over the last decade. The most recent was the third night of their Hanukkah residency at Maxwell's in Hoboken—if you ever want to see them live, THAT is the place to experience it. It's their equivalent of home field advantage—it never gets too packed, it's always loud, and they're surprisingly open to talking to fans after the show.
The band has been performing lots of intimate gigs over the last few weeks to promote their excellent new album Fade. The Fallon show tweeted about their Band Bench tickets (you can get all the info, including upcoming performers, about it here) for their appearance on Tuesday. According to one effervescent page, we were all chosen "specifically by Jimmy" to be seen on television, which is pretty impressive considering Jimmy somehow was able to specifically choose us by having an intern wade through email requests at random.
Nevertheless, I had a responsibility to be as eager and enthusiastic as possible to make sure Yo La Tengo's beach party was sufficiently groovy. This despite the fact I got a migraine while waiting on line to get into the studio, trapped in a water fountain-less, poorly-lit, orange-tinged hallway for 30 minutes.
If you've ever been to a taping of one of the city's many late night shows, then you know the gist of how these things go: a warm-up comedian, who is usually not very funny, does some HILARIOUS banter with audience members in between instructions on what the "applause" sign really means (it means..."applaud"). My fellow head-nodders and I were positioned in the very back of the set for the bulk of the show.
The Roots warmed up with "I Shot The Sheriff." Announcer Steve Higgins had a funny joke during the monologue about "Ben-Him," the remake of "Ben-Hur" (Fallon didn't get it at first, and the awkward extended moment was cut from broadcast). Fallon recorded a Doritos promo where he got hit with footballs. An exceptionally gravelly-voiced Charlie Sheen did a green screen bit with Fallon (the two seem like good buds off camera). Actress Emmy Rossum discussed her love of John Starks and Patrick Ewing. Vogue's Grace Coddington gave Fallon a delightful amateur sketch of the show.
And then we were led down to the stage for our big moment. I ripped off my sweater, unleashed my fanboy shirt, and was promptly ushered to the front of a platform on stage left, overlooking the drums. Fred Armisen and Kid Millions joined them on percussion for "Ohm," the first track from the new record (which you can see up above); after the show ended, Armisen and the other drummers engaged in a drum-off with Questlove. Then later, the band returned for a very quiet debut of the beautiful "I'll Be Around" (see below).
In the end, you can't really see the fans on stage very well—it's too dark, even though at the time, it seemed like the lights were shining right on us. But if you squint, you can see my mostly-white shirt several times throughout the "Ohm" performance. Just don't look too hard: I may be extremely comfortable when I'm head-nodding in a crowd through the hundreds of live shows I've been to—but it turns out it really does not translate well on television.
But at least I got to freak out Armisen during the second time I saw him play with the band: earlier in the day, I had bet a friend that the band would perform "Ohm." As the band was setting up, drummer and singer Georgia Hubley played a very short snippet of the beat. While Armisen was getting his things together, I asked him if he was excited to play the song. He gave me a perplexed sideways glance, and asked very warily, "How'd you know that?" I responded: "I know things Fred." He didn't look at me again.