By Max Radwin, Daily Fine Arts Editor
Published February 8, 2013
Yo La Tengo returns to Ann Arbor Friday for a one-night performance at The Michigan Theatre before continuing its tour in Toronto. The Ark is putting on the show.
Yo La Tengo
Friday at 8:00 p.m.
The Michigan Theatre
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The band is looking forward to playing in the 87-year-old theater, which it has done once before.
“It’s a lot different of an experience than other venues in town,” said bassist James McNew. “(It’s) really beautiful. I think I also went to the movies there on my night off.”
The band is touring to promote their 13th album, Fade, which dropped Jan. 14.
“We focused on making a shorter record this time,” McNew said. “Most of the songs are a little more economical. All of our albums have been double albums for the last 10 years or so, and this is the first single album we’ve made in a very long time.”
With the new album comes the band’s first attempt at a music video in nearly 15 years. Phil Morrison directed the video to “I’ll Be Around” (which, in addition to featuring Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan, shows the band preparing some sort of tortilla dish, with the recipe appearing on the screen for those who might want to join in). The band also made a video for “Before We Run,” a song that also appears on Fade.
But fans attending Friday’s performance don’t have to worry about it being Fade-dominated or about missing any of their favorite songs that the band has produced in their almost 30-year history.
“We’ve been mostly playing a lot of songs off of ‘Fade’ (while on tour). But we’re playing two sets. The first set will be mostly quiet material, and the second set is louder. We’ll mix it up. The set changes every night and there are lots of old songs.”
Yo La Tengo has always been known to “mix it up,” take chances and do the unorthodox. The band is famous for its cover songs — including everything from The Ramones to Todd Rundgren to Devo — several of which were played impromptu and by request on WFMU, a radio station headquartered near their hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey. Many of their covers were released in a 2006 compilation album titled “Yo La Tengo is Murdering the Classics.”
The band’s tendency to cover just about anything, to keep its sound evolving and to stay outside of the mold of any given genre has made it hard to define. The one genre that continues to resurface, despite the band’s mainstream success, is “indie.” But McNew finds the term more problematic than helpful.
“I always felt we were rock music. I still don’t know what indie means. I guess it meant something back when major labels existed, but that was a very long time ago.”
Since 1984, critics have put Yo La Tengo under the label of experimental, rock ‘n’ roll, alternative, electronic and everything in between.
“I never really paid attention to it,” McNew said. “But I just don’t care. We don’t really care about being in a category and, for some reason, we’ve never really been in one.”