Yo La Tengo’s Pure Folk

Unplugged, sold-out, and cover to cover

Whereas “Let’s wake up the neighbors, let’s turn up our amps” marked Yo La Tengo’s mantra at Fun Fun Fun Fest 2014, their aura Saturday night emanated comparatively quiet. The Hoboken-bred trio’s sold-out show at University of Texas’ Hogg Auditorium transpired fully acoustic and folky – unlike the rock roar for which those “Big Day Coming” lyrics strive.

Photo by Jana Birchum

The New Yorkers were joined onstage by their mid-Eighties era guitarist Dave Schramm, who rejoined YLT for last year’s Stuff Like That There. That LP, the group’s 14th, mimics 1990’s Fakebook in its blend of unplugged originals and covers. Among the latter, Saturday’s set served Darlene McCrea’s “My Heart’s Not in It,” Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Butchie’s Tune,” and “Friday I’m in Love,” the Cure classic posing drummer/singer Georgia Hubley’s unmistakably flat vocals like a nurturing Nico.

The foursome – clustered onto one area rug and thus leaving a sprawling negative space onstage – then tapped 1997 indie anthem “Autumn Sweater” and zany Devo upper “Bottled Up,” a welcome pace punctuation featuring bassist James McNew on lead vocals. Later, the Rolling Stones’ “Take It Or Leave It” arrived dedicated to friends recently passed, including radio comedian Bob Elliott and Hot Licks singer Dan Hicks.

“We’ve been a band for a really long time, which is great, mostly,” began frontman Ira Kaplan. “Though, watching people dear to us depart is very hard.”

The 59-year-old loosened in time.

“We played this song once before here, at Stubb’s, while some motorcycle rally was going on outside,” remarked Kaplan. “We felt the roar of those engines required acknowledgement.”

He snickered, then launched the Byrds’ auspicious “Wasn’t Born to Follow.”

Next, Fade original “Ohm” inserted jam, Schramm’s erratic solo reiterating that Wilco avant-gardist Nels Cline isn’t noise-rock’s lone six-string maverick. “Our Way to Fall” returned the intimacy, the romantic And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out cut wrapping the set’s second half.

A slew of requests from an otherwise respectfully mum crowd greeted the quartet for an encore. After quick deliberation, Electr-O-Pura’s “Tom Courtenay” commenced the three-song surplus.

“I hope we’ve never come to Austin without mentioning Doug Sahm,” Kaplan offered, dedicating throwback toe-tapper “This Diamond Ring” to the late Texan. Preserving their covers path, the Beach Boys’ “Farmer’s Daughter” culminated the 26-song set.

Whereas YLT’s last local gig dealt a more caffeinated set typical of festivals, Saturday’s performance came off as pure folk in its warmth and leisure. That type of multifarious individualism – the ability to spring from noise-rock jam to roots lullaby with creative crux intact – has nurtured three decades of Yo La Tengo and counting.

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Yo La Tengo, Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, Dave Schramm, James McNew, Darlene McCrea, Lovin‘ Spoonful, Cure, Rolling Stones, Byrds, Devo, Doug Sahm, Bob Elliot, Dan Hicks, Wilco, Nels Cline, Beach Boys, Nico

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