At this point, it almost goes without saying that Yo La Tengo is a cherished, venerable cornerstone of the indie rock community.
The guitar-drums/husband-wife duo of Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley came roaring out of Hoboken 23 years ago with a healthy respect for the polarities of the Velvet Underground—shimmering, melodic ballads and feedback-drenched noise workouts.
Now the band, which also features long-time bassist James McNew, is finally making its Woodstock debut with two shows at the Colony Cafe on October 20. “The Freewheeling Yo La Tengo” tour should disprove the notion that you can’t teach an old band new tricks. The all-acoustic set will be chock-full of selections from the band’s more than 15 albums, including the gloriously titled 2006 platter I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (Matador).
With its name alone the band has garnered an eclectic and irreverent reputation. Spanish for “I’ve got it!”—“Yo la tengo!” was the cry of 1962 New York Mets shortstop Elia Chacon, who frequently collided with his teammate Richie Ashburn on pop-ups.
Kaplan said the acoustic format allows the band to play in new venues, as well as approach songs from different angles. “[Acoustic] definitely makes it quieter,” says the singer-guitarist via cell phone from a European tour. “I think the plan is to turn things down and go in with less of a scheme about what’s going to be happening on any given night. What’s fun about doing [guitar freakout] songs, like ‘The Story of Yo La Tengo,’ is adapting them to different styles and using different approaches. If it was going to translate precisely, it would take a lot of the fun and challenge out of it.”
Although the band will touch on various permutations of its sound, Kaplan is adamant that the tour not be looked at as some kind of valedictory good-bye kiss. “This is not a grand statement of summation,” he asserts. “It’s just something we’re going to do and you can’t help but sum things up anytime you do something. We’ve never thought too far into the future. Being together for this long was never something we planned to do or planned not to do. We try not to look too far into the future or backward at various moments. The three of us are really excited and interested in what we’re doing and in doing different things. We don’t struggle very hard to find something to be captivated by.”
I Am Not Afraid of You is as diverse a record as an audiophile could hope for. “Mr. Tough” is a horn-driven toe-tapper with a dose of Curtis Mayfield falsetto, while “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind” marries a “Funky Drummer” beat to a squalling freight train of noisy drone.
“I think the diversity contributed to the length,” Kaplan says about the album. “If we had songs that all sounded the same, the record would have been a lot shorter. We never go into it with a clear expectation of what needs to be done. We like the feeling of seeing what’s going to happen and not be committed to doing anything in particular.”