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An unassuming array of Outsider artwork (some by the bandmates themselves, some by friends including Jad Fair and Gary Panter) was the only backdrop hanging behind Yo La Tengo on the cavernous Kings Theater stage, creating a kind of domestic cocoon within the lavish former movie palace. “We’ve got nothin‘ but time — just here in our living room, relaxing,” singer Ira Kaplan quipped at one point, waiting as guitarist Dave Schramm prepped his guitar for the group’s winning cover of Cat Stevens‘ “Here Comes My Baby.”
But if this was a house party, it was a calm one, in which a room packed with middle-aged fans kept mostly quiet for a rare acoustic set. Entering the fourth decade of their partnership with an album of covers, Stuff Like that There, the trio has recruited onetime bandmate Schramm, who last joined them on their first covers record, 1990’s Fakebook. His guitar was the only electric instrument onstage, supplying welcome color with solos on numbers like “Automatic Doom” and “Butchie’s Tune,” which emphasized the Country roadhouse leanings of the Lovin‘ Spoonful original.
Schramm’s flourishes aside, the instrumentation was uniformly mellow, mostly avoiding the swinging singalong vibe of Fakebook in favor of more dreamy sounds. Drummer Georgia Hubley stood behind her small kit throughout instead of sitting, favoring brushes and a quietly steady eighth-note beat; James McNew swapped his usual bass for a stand-up model. And Kaplan’s vocals — especially on the classic “Can’t Forget,” the Kaplan original that kicked off Fakebook — were so subdued they occasionally risked dissolving entirely.
Kaplan’s delivery of “Our Way to Fall,” on the other hand, was spellbinding: The set-ending tune, taken from 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, dripped with nostalgia for the tender moments at a relationship’s start. But it was Hubley (Kaplan’s wife and YLT co-founder) whose voice set the evening’s tone. She sang what was surely the night’s most familiar cover, of The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love,” but that winking song was far from her highlight. Hubley’s sleepy take on Darlene McCrea‘s “My Heart’s Not in It” is a more memorable contribution to the new album; live, Antietam’s “Naples” was a perfect illustration of how the new covers record differs from its 25 year-old predecessor.
In their encore, the band was joined for two songs by Nick Lowe, whose solo opening set proved once again that he’s the most debonair senior-citizen tunesmith in rock and roll, and one of the most talented. Gracious while a good percentage of the crowd straggled in late during the first half of his set, he saved hits like “Cruel to be Kind” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” for the end. But before that, his “Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day” took on a new flavor: Charmingly self-confident on 2007’s At My Age, here it was slow and quiet, sounding more like a man mustering up his courage to woo a woman than one announcing his intentions to the world. Nuance like that went out the window as Lowe and YLT chanted the former’s “Rollers Show” theme at the end of the evening — a weak moment in an otherwise transporting stroll down memory lane.
Tried So Hard (Gene Clark)
Automatic Doom (The Special Pillow)
My Heart’s Not in It (Darlene McCrea)
Deeper Into Movies
Butchie’s Tune (The Lovin’ Spoonful)
Today Is the Day
Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind
Here Comes My Baby (Cat Stevens)
Friday I’m in Love (The Cure)
Yellow Sarong (The Scene Is Now)
Our Way to Fall
Bottled Up (DEVO)
Walk Away Renee (The Left Banke) (with Nick Lowe)
Rollers Show (Nick Lowe) (with Nick Lowe)
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