Iconic band Yo La Tengo to perform at the Englert

BY NINA EARNEST | JUNE 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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The members of Yo La Tengo don’t speak Spanish.

Instead, guitarist Ira Kaplan said, the name was a phrase — translated as “I’ve got it” — they had heard and read used by the New York Mets.

“That was part of the appeal,” Kaplan said. “It was something that kind of had a musical sound without being anything literal to our English-only brains.”

Literal or not, the band still has something keeping it critical and fan favorites after 25 years in music.

Yo La Tengo will perform at 8 p.m. today at the Englert. Admission is $25.

The New-Jersey based trio — made up of Kaplan, wife Georgia Hubley, and James McNew — have been known for their musical diversity for more than two decades.

They have covered a lot of territory in their songwriting, from experimental rock to indie pop to acoustic and even scores for underwater documentaries.

Englert marketing associate Nathan Gould said many good indie bands come to town, but Yo La Tengo offers a chance to see a group of a stature little seen in Iowa City.

“It’s a unique opportunity to see a band that’s been producing some quality music for a long time and influenced music today,” Gould said.

Experimenting with different styles seems natural, Kaplan said. A number of the bands Yo La Tengo members have admired over the years — including the Beatles, the Velvet Underground, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, and NRBQ — all had a wide variety of songs in their catalogues.

“It didn’t seem like we were doing something so radical for playing in different styles,” Kaplan said.

And the band discovered an ideal way to perform their eclectic repertoire: the Wheel Spin, which they will bring to Iowa City tonight.

“We were trying to figure out how we could present [the] many sides of what we do without telegraphing in advance [of] what we plan to do,” Kaplan said.

The first 40-minute set is determined by the spin of a wheel listing eight potential categories, including “Dump,” “The Freewheeling Yo La Tengo,” and “The Name Game.”

Following the spin set, the band takes a break to write a set list — an acoustic first set, like the “Free Wheeling Yo La Tengo” could possibly be followed by a louder second performance.

“It’s challenging for us to keep that many songs balanced somewhere in the brain,” Kaplan said. “We just think it’s a good show.”

Max Johnson, the music director of KRUI radio, said the group’s performance would likely appeal to all ages.

“Younger kids should listen to them because they perfected combining noisy punk elements with pop elements,” he said. “And I think older crowds might like them for the nostalgia ’80s, ’90s feel.”

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