Yo LA TEnGO with PORTASTATIC and Daniel Johnston at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Monday (April 14), $21. 416-870-8000.
while yo la tengo are known to liven up performances with an unusual cover -- anything from the Beach Boys' Little Honda to Queen's We Are The Champions -- their own compositions rarely stray from the sensitive nerd-rock aesthetic that made them college radio faves.So it was more than a bit surprising to hear the Hoboken crew getting busy with a head-noddin' bump on the track Georgia Vs. Yo La Tengo from their latest disc, Summer Sun (Matador).
It's loose, swinging and, believe it or not, actually has a groove.
Admittedly, James Brown won't be calling up Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew the next time he fires his band. But clearly this isn't the same weedy Yo La Tengo we've come to know and, er, appreciate. Or is it?
"For a while we've been playing behind people's backs in ways we don't play to their faces," explains frontman Ira Kaplan from his New Jersey abode.
"We've done some weddings where we had to learn and play songs in different styles -- some that would surprise people to hear.
"Now more than ever, the songs we write begin with us just playing in a room, so it's sometimes tough to draw a line between fooling around and coming up with new material. On a song like Georgia Vs. Yo La Tengo I think we were definitely closer to fooling around."
Along the way there were songs Yo La Tengo covered that suggested a latent funkiness might be lurking somewhere beneath the cardigans -- namely, their hilariously tight-assed crack at William DeVaughn's gangsta leanin' Be Thankful For What You Got.
Their more recent blast through Sun Ra's anti-war anthem Nuclear War indicated they'd finally loosened up. Evidently, this timely update has been going down a storm at shows.
"We actually started playing it back in December of 2001 at the first of what would become our annual Hanukkah shows. On that night, NRBQ's Terry Adams was our guest, and we did Sun Ra's Nuclear War.
"We talked about the song with Terry afterwards, and he asked if we were going to record it. We thought it was a good idea but never got around to doing it until recently.
"We haven't been playing too much lately, but at each show we've played it, and the response has mostly been positive.
"Yeah," sighs Kaplan. "Someone wrote an online review of a gig we did in Brooklyn last summer where we performed it and said we, umm... "should be shot.' It was a reminder that it's not such a good idea to read everything written about you."email@example.com