While their contemporaries in Sonic Youth once ventured that the best approach to the past was to kill your idols, the members of art-pop stalwart Yo La Tengo have always been more willing to venerate theirs — as evidenced by this alternately intriguing and frustrating stand as a kinda Kinks backing band for British rock legend Ray Davies.
Ostensibly designed for Davies to work out the kinks (sorry) in material destined for an upcoming Capitol album, the two-hour set also served as a cross between a tribute show and a live-action version of MTV’s “Fanatic.” Thanks to the prodding of his temporary co-conspirators, Davies dipped deep into his back catalog, pulling out such little-known Kinks tunes as “No Return” and “Animal Farm,” which he insisted had never been played live before.
Much of the newer material previewed here — like the jazzy “Next Door Neighbor” — harked back to the Kinks’ less commercial but critically acclaimed middle period. The rustic charm of that song, as well as a marvelously crafted weeper called “Bridge for Dreams,” was underscored by the light-but-steady drumming of Georgia Hubley.
Hubley, guitarist-husband Ira Kaplan and bassist James McNew proved fine foils for Davies, grasping not only the form of his compositions but the spirit as well. That was particularly evident on a dissonant rave-up called “The Morning After,” on which Kaplan unleashed a distorted solo that would have done brother Dave Davies proud.
Davies meandered a bit, however, when the Yo La gang left the stage. He indulged himself with an overlong “experimental” bit that matched spoken word with triggered samples, overwhelming guitarist Pete Matheson’s contributions. His self-reflexive tendencies got a bit out of hand on some of the more structured material as well, notably the treacly soul mooning of “Otis Riffs.”
The sheer intimacy of the show — and Davies’ surprisingly relaxed mood — made up for those moments of tedium. It was practically impossible not to get swept up in the cathartic energy of “You Really Got Me.”