Yo La Tengo

iTunes Live Session EP

(Matador; 2007)

By David M. Goldstein | 26 January 2007

With Pavement on (what’s likely to be) permanent hiatus, I nominate Yo La Tengo for the mantle of “Matador Band Most Adept at Harnessing the Power of the Almighty B-Side.” They’ve released more EP’s and random CD singles than actual albums, mostly in the name of having an outlet to recast their originals while recording the most willfully obscure cover tunes imaginable. Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley are unafraid to flaunt the fact that they own more, way more, ’60s vinyl than you do, and when they do elect to release a cover song that the general populace might be familiar with, like Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” rest assured they were soused when it was recorded.

Part of the fun in following Yo La Tengo is charting the inevitable B-side barrage that chases their full-length releases by a few months. Last year’s excellent I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass came out in September, and the recently released iTunes Live Session EP is YLT’s most immediate concession to B-sidesville; a cover song from the “Mr Tough” CD single and a bossa instrumental from the soundtrack to John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus notwithstanding.

While not quite as meaty as the Little Honda (1997) or Today is the Day (2003) EPs, the iTunes Session will certainly be of interest to fans and follows the Yo La Tengo EP mold to a tee. You get a surf instrumental that sounds like it was made up on the spot (“El Es Gay”), a bristling live recording of I Am Not Afraid track “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind,” a thorough reworking of another album track, “The Weakest Part,” and a cover of yet another amusingly obscure Nuggets-era song. Much like their subdued take on “Cherry Chapstick” from the Today is the Day EP, “The Weakest Part” is given the lullaby treatment, replacing the Belle & Sebastian-style jaunt of the original with a significantly slower tempo in which Georgia Hubley’s vocal is only accompanied by a muted piano.

But the rowdy Arthur Lee cover “Luci Baines” quickly quells any attempt by the listener to utilize “The Weakest Part” as an entry to a fitful slumber. Give Yo La Tengo this: up until two weeks ago, I had no idea that Arthur Lee was in a pre-Love band called The American Four, and I certainly did not know that said band released a single consisting of a tribute to Lyndon Baines Johnson’s daughter that was a note-for-note rip of “Twist and Shout.” Yo La be educational like that.