Yo La Tengo played a show without James McNew? Could The Beatles play without George Harrison? The Velvet Underground without John Cale? Fugazi without Joe Lally, Sonic Youth without Lee Ranaldo...the list goes on.
Well, they did, "for the first and hopefully last time in 20 years," due to McNew's having his appendix out. In his place was the band's original lead guitarist, Dave Schramm, and a violinist whose name I did not catch. And although McNew's presence was missed, the band covered it well by playing the set close to the chest, keeping things very quiet, and even unearthing some old songs recorded while Schramm was still in the band. Schramm even took lead vocals on McNew's "Stockholm Syndrome." (Schramm: "Forgive me James...")
Other highlights included a cover of Georgia singing...(wait for it)...George Harrison's "Behind That Locked Door," and low-key versions of "Sugarcube" (with some acoustic shredding courtesy of Ira Kaplan) and "Our Way To Fall." Kaplan repeatedly apologized for James' absence, but the unique atmosphere of the show made up for it.
M. Ward's set could only pick things up, and the bassist and drummer immediately took the stage with "Post-War." But: no M. Ward in sight. Finally, in the classiest of moves, Matt gracefully appeared, thanking the crowd, before rocking Prospect Park slowly with crooning and tasteful guitar licks. Up next was oldie "Paul's Song," and finally more members of the band came to the stage to bring the dusty songs to life. Bright Eyes stalwart keyboardist / trumpeter Nate Walcott helped flesh out "For Beginners" with steady trumpet lines, and "Four Hours In Washington" had Ward stalking the microphone until the song exploded into instrumental prowess, punk energy throwing the acoustic backbone of the song off the rails. After a rousing and varied set, "To Go Home" aptly ended the night on a high note, the way it began.