Yo La Tengo fans have been parodied as proudly obsessive music geeks, and it seemed time the band made those fans part of the act. On its most recent tour, which culminated November 16 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, the musicians allowed the more vocal members of the audience the opportunity to validate the stereotype. Before setting out, they described their “Freewheeling Yo La Tengo Tour” as chance to play more intimate venues, weaving rejiggered acoustic versions of their songs around VH1 Storytellers-type tales from their twenty-three-years of touring and songwriting.
“What’s your favorite comic book?!”
By the time Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan and James McNew arrived in Brooklyn, the tour had become more of a bullshit session, with the band fielding questions from a feverishly dorky audience between nearly every song. Nobody had more fun ribbing the absurdity of the Tengophile than Kaplan, whose pooh-poohed song requests and quick-witted one-liners demonstrated that he’s either in possession of a lickety-split comedic mind or that he’s been fielding these questions from rabid fans for two decades.
“What’s your favorite Velvet song?!”
“I just . . . how can you pick a favorite?”
“If you want to be that shallow, you pick one.”
Early in the set, the band dipped into last year’s stellar I’m Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, opening with a jaunty version of “The Weakest Part,” and in the acoustic arrangement, “Sometimes I Don’t Get You” took on a fresh fragility. The band also delved into its voluminous back catalog, including a standout rendition of the “Blue Line Swinger” recorded for the Camp Yo La Tengo EP (1995).
“How much did you pay for In Rainbows?!”
And naturally, the members of Yo La Tengo drew upon a wide selection of cover songs, faithful renditions and still wholly sounding like their own. Hubley shone as a cover chanteuse, turning Blondie’s “Dreaming” into an uplifting ballad and spinning a tender, lightly accompanied rumination on John Cale’s “Hanky Panky Nohow.”
“Do you play video games?!”
The set came to a close with a superlative version of “The Story of Yo La Tango” off last year’s album, with Kaplan distorting his acoustic guitar into a jagged fuzz and struggling to remain seated while tearing through the soaring climax. As the noise faded, the band went into “You Can Have It All,” off 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out. More than any other, “You Can Have It All” thrived in the acoustic setting, a lilting lullaby to close the set. Opening act Metal Mountains came out to join in an encore-capping cover of Fairport Convention’s “Flowers of the Forest,” a folky conclusion to this populist tour.
“Why did all the songs on the last record fade out?”
“Because you didn’t pay for the real record, my friend.”