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The band Yo La Tengo. Credit: Courtesy of Carlie Armstrong
The band Yo La Tengo. Credit: Courtesy of Carlie Armstrong

Takes two to tango: Yo La Tengo to play two sets at Wex

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The Wexner Center for the Arts’ Next@Wex series focuses on bringing rising artists to Columbus, but this weekend will see the return of an already well-established group: Yo La Tengo.

On Saturday, the indie rock legacy act will perform for a sold-out crowd on the Performance Space stage during its second visit to the Wexner Center. The band had previously visited to perform at a film event.

In 2012, Yo La Tengo joined filmmaker Sam Green on tour to provide musical accompaniment for his live documentary “The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller.” The tour’s visit to the Wexner Center established a relationship between the band and the center, which led to this event.

“For people who love indie music, Yo La Tengo is one of the biggies of the genre,” said Jennifer Wray, the Wexner Center’s media and marketing assistant. “They’re people who have been making excellent, boundary-pushing music for quite a while now, and we were excited by the opportunity to get to have them here.”

Though Next@Wex leans toward younger artists, Yo La Tengo, which formed in the ‘80s and has released more than a dozen albums, is anything but new. Wray said the group’s history and success actually makes the band a great fit for the series.

“Next@Wex is a lot about introducing these indie music innovators, up-and-coming artists,” she said. “But it’s also about welcoming back innovators, people who have sort of set their own sound, have gotten great recognition for making music that is particularly theirs, that sounds like nothing else.”

Yo La Tengo’s performance comes in support of its latest album, 2015’s “Stuff Like That There,” which features the band playing a mixture of covers, originals and some things in between.

“They like to play with the idea of cover songs and what that means,” Wray said. “They’re known for kind of following the traditional idea of cover songs in which they perform works that were written by or made famous by other artists, but then they also, kind of playfully in a sense, will do cover songs of their own work. In the same way that cover songs often reinterpret someone else’s music, they’ll be reinterpreting their own music.”

One of those covers, “Before We Stopped To Think,” actually originates from an Ohio State professor’s old band, Great Plains. Paul Nini, a professor in the department of design, spent time as Great Plains’ bassist and said he has known Yo La Tengo since the mid-1980s when the band’s singer and guitarist, Ira Kaplan, worked sound for a venue Great Plains visited.

Nini also released a song by the band through his label, Old 3C Records, now under Old 3C Label Group, last year. He said Yo La Tengo has achieved longevity by maintaining its originality.

“I don’t think anyone would have marked them as, ‘Yeah, they’re the ones who are going to be around for 30 years and be successful,’ but they just kept at it and they kept doing it,” he said. “What I really like about them is they just do whatever they want. They don’t really care about trends.”

In another unusual turn, Yo La Tengo will be performing two sets rather than having an opening artist. The first set will be primarily acoustic with a simpler percussion setup and the second set will feature a typical rock band setup. This will allow the band to play both its gentler acoustic songs and feedback-driven rock songs.

The Wexner Center’s director of performing arts, Chuck Helm, pointed to the band’s unique career and previous cover-focused album, “Fakebook,” as influential to the popularity of its live performances.

“They’ve been doing some things like (“Stuff Like That There”) already, and their fans really love the shows — which certainly explains why this one sold out so quickly,” he said.

The Performance Space, an approximately 550 person capacity venue, sold out in around a month with another 150 people being added to a waitlist for tickets.

Wray, who has seen Yo La Tengo twice before, said she has tickets and is excited for its two distinct sets.

“I’m just really looking forward to experiencing the full range of music that they have,” she said. “They’re talented musicians, and I think that we’re going to see it when they hit the stage.”

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