Yo La Tengo isn’t about to put out a live album. If you’ll recall, in the video for “Sugarcube,” the first single off the band’s milestone late-’90s album I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, the Rock Academy rule is that the fourth album MUST be double live. Well, roughly ten years later, Yo La Tengo has put out the first album to match I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One‘s disparate smorgasbord of styles-last year’s I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass-and now has followed it up with a live. . .four-song EP. (And no, the recent radio phone-in album of covers, Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics, doesn’t count.)
The band’s live chops have always backed up the albums, with precise amounts of meandering and focus, Georgia Hubley’s vigorous drumming and dynamic guitar work from Ira Kaplan. After the EP’s loud, driving instrumental opener, “El Es Gay,” sets the tone of Kaplan’s guitar prowess, the members give us Beat Your Ass‘s eleven-minute opener, “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind,” and stick to the album version’s guns, nailing the simple bass melody that holds down the track as Kaplan wails away, in and out of wonderful distortion.
Hubley takes the front seat for one of Beat Your Ass‘s slow-burners, “The Weakest Part,” an excellent piano-laden addition that highlights the band’s varied approaches. It seems that in Yo La Tengo’s twenty-third year, given Beat You Ass‘s all-over-the palate character, the band members are digging deep into and improving on their strongest traits. Or, as the EP closes, trying something new-namely a cover of a pre-Love Arthur Lee tune called “Luci Baines.” The American Four was Lee’s band, and the song happens to delve into his crush on former President Lyndon Johnson’s daughter. But for the most part, it swaggers and struts, reminding us, along with the rest of this EP, that Yo La Tengo hasn’t yet hit its most vital moment.