In an era when too many musicians think of themselves as a “brand,” Yo La Tengo offers a refreshingly less self-aggrandizing model. At the Ivar Theater, the Hoboken, N.J., trio felt more like the proprietors of a mom-and-pop business, a pleasingly cluttered shop on the corner where the owners know their customers by name and people feel comfortable dropping in for some coffee, small talk and gossip.
The Ivar show, part of their “Freewheeling” tour, is an informal evening mixing music and a give-and-take conversation with their adoring aud. “Ask us anything,” guitarist Ira Kaplan urged, and the sold-out house responded, peppering the stage with questions about band history, dining options in Hoboken, movie appearance (the band contributed a cover of “Fourth Time Around” to the soundtrack of “I’m Not There,” Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan biopic, and the tour’s name refers to Dylan’s classic 1962 album), baseball (although Kaplan, a long-time Mets fan, grimaced and ignored a question about the team’s epic collapse this season) and thoughts about the different cities they’ve played.
The band’s rambling and slyly humorous answers served as (often loose) segues to the songs: sometimes their own material, such as the lolling “Magnet” (Hubley doing her best Mo Tucker) and an extended “Sugarcube,” or various covers, including a straightforward rendition of KC and the Sunshine Band’s “You Can Have It All,” loving takes of lesser-known songs by the Only Ones (“The Whole of the Law”), Kinks (“Picture Book”) and Jonathan Richman (“New Teller,” for which Kaplan had to get the chord changes on the fly from bassist James McNew).
Playing the entire show seated and with minimal equipment –Kaplan had only one guitar and effects box while Hubley’s drum kit consisted of a snare, floor tom and a single cymbal — the pleasantly unstructured perf felt less like a concert than an evening hanging out with the band in their attic as they cleared things out and ruminated over whatever they came across.
The intimate, seated Ivar was the perfect room for the perf, a miniature art deco bandbox that should become a favorite with singer-songwriters too big for Largo and looking for an alternative to the Troubadour.
Yo La Tengo takes part in the “I’m Not There” concert at Gotham’s Beacon Theater on Wednesday and brings its annual Hanukkah shows to Hoboken’s Maxwell’s Dec. 4-11.