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Yo La Tengo: Hanukkah in July

Mike Greenhaus | May 15, 2018


Last year, Ira Kaplan waited until July to give his fans the holiday gift they’d been waiting for. Near the end of Yo La Tengo’s free midsummer performance at New York’s tree-lined Central Park SummerStage, the guitarist invited his mother Marilyn to sing the 1960s pop song “My Little Corner of the World”—and to help announce the return of their signature, guest-heavy, eight-night Hanukkah celebration at a new venue after a five-year lapse.

The announcement felt completely in line with Yo La Tengo’s singular approach. Almost every year from 2001–2012, the trio—Kaplan, his wife and drummer Georgia Hubley and bassist James McNew—performed at Hoboken, N.J.’s Maxwell’s throughout the Jewish holiday. Far from the usual, sloppy, end-of-the-year party, the festive benefits featured surprise openers, comedians and a bibliography-worthy array of influential, if not overlooked, rock-and-roll journeymen who were treated with the same reverence as Yo La Tengo’s actual celebrity guests. Some shows tilted toward the indie-rock group’s avant-garde-leaning noise-rock improvisational qualities, while others looked through the layers of sound to their sweet, sensitive side and love of power-pop, Downtown jazz, punk, girl-group music or, on occasion, simple, fun classic-rock sing-alongs. Marilyn traditionally joined the trio on the run’s final night for “My Little Corner of the World;” the song felt emblematic of both the run and the entire scene that Yo La Tengo had slowly built since the mid-1980s, while hiding in plain sight just across the river from Manhattan in Hoboken.

Yo La Tengo hadn’t hosted a Hanukkah show since Maxwell’s ended its most famous chapter in 2013—the club has since reopened and closed once again—and though the promoters of New York’s Bowery Ballroom had been unsuccessfully asking the group to take over the run for years, the band finally came back to them shortly before their Central Park show with a “yes” and a plan for Marilyn to help announce.

“When Maxwell’s closed, it seemed inconceivable that we would do it anywhere else,” Hubley says of the venue that had nurtured Yo La Tengo since their first show. “But, this year, I started to feel like, ‘Maybe it’s time to bring it back.’ It probably had a lot to do with the [2016] election and everything going on.”

“I was the last person to think it was a good idea to bring them back,” Kaplan is quick to add. “But now, I’m discovering how much I had been remembering the hard parts and forgetting the good parts.”