‘Mr. Tough’ hangs tough in falsetto | AspenTimes.com

‘Mr. Tough’ hangs tough in falsetto

Stewart Oksenhorn

Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen Times

If Yo La Tengo ever decided to go for shimmering, upbeat, radio-friendly pop as a full-time occupation, there might be a lucrative future in it. “Mr. Tough,” from the New Jersey rock trio’s new album, “I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass,” was four or so minutes of sugary delight at Yo La Tengo’s Aspen debut Wednesday night at Belly Up. You couldn’t have chiseled the smile off my face, as bandleader Ira Kaplan sang in falsetto, and played chiming electric piano rather than his customary guitar.It’s hard to conceive, though, that Yo La Tengo would ever focus exclusively on the kind of pop-rock, reminiscent of “Midnight Vultures”-era Beck, represented by “Mr. Tough.” Or that the group – a 22-year-old indie rock institution that features Georgia Hubley, Kaplan’s wife, and James McNew as well as Kaplan – would ever limit themselves to any one thing. In fact, 10 minutes before breezing into “Mr. Tough,” when Kaplan was in the throes of a long, noisy guitar solo that had him practically in spasms, it was difficult to imagine that Yo La Tengo would be capable of anything resembling a tight tune that might be suitable for commercial radio.”Mr. Tough” was notable not only for what Yo La Tengo aimed for, but that they could achieve it. At times during the show, Kaplan’s voice seemed too weak an instrument to hit, much less sustain, the high notes required by the song. But Yo La Tengo is nothing if not multifaceted. The Belly Up show featured Ramones-like blasts of power chords, hushed ballads that had Hubley abandoning her drum kit, and Kaplan playing a guitar solo that had him banging his guitar, twisting knobs on his amp and finally leaving his instrument, still plugged in and feeding back, on the amp.It sounds like typical, showy guitar heroics, but it isn’t. Kaplan plays his solos with his back to the crowd; his energy comes from the noise, not from the audience. In stage presence, Yo La Tengo is the model of the indie-rock, anti-rock star ethos. It is funny that the name, Ira Kaplan, sounds a lot like that of a more typical guitar god, Eric Clapton – but also a twist on the name that, appropriately, conjures an image of mild-mannered geekiness.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com