TROY — You know how, when someone speaks very quietly, you lean close and go quiet yourself? Yo La Tengo seemed to draw everyone onstage at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Wednesday with soft, slow, sincere music that sounded like nerd night at the Grand Ole Opry.
Launching a tour on their whispering-in-the-prairie-honky-tonk album “Things Like That There,” they looked like this: stripe-T-shirted whisperer/acoustic guitarist Ira Kaplan, stage left; pony-tailed, cowboy-shirted standup drummer/whisperer Georgia Hubley, center stage; long-haired bulky bassist/whisperer James McNew, between Hubley and fashion-nondescript guitar ace (really!) Dave Schramm.
Made in Hoboken, their songs sounded like Cowboy Junkies playing Talking Heads tunes, like Michael Franks fronting the Velvet Underground, like Wussy after chilling on a beach for years — all in a good way.
Covering classics and their own tunes, they started with Gene Clark’s desperate, soft-spoken “Tried So Hard” with alternating Kaplan and Hubley vocals and Schramm’s first great James-Burton-via-Marc-Ribot guitar solo.
Their own “Is That Enough” echoed it in sentiment and sound; as did almost everything in their two short, easy-rolling sets. The first closed with the Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love,” carried to the barn on Hubley’s vocal, though her best offering was probably the evocative cityscape “Naples” by pals Antietam; it followed Hermans Hermits’ “Dream On” and preceded Devo’s “Bottled Up.”
After these unplugged/mutated crunchy granola covers, their own “Double Dare” (GREAT Schramm solo!), “Automatic Doom” (maybe their most melodic song), “Griselda” (recognition shout-outs) and moody “Deeper Into Movies” wandered the same peaceful backroads.
Like the covers, originals from their sometimes-noisy albums also went all country-and-eastern pastoral on Wednesday. Mid-second-set, “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m GoodKind” — a guitar-distortion thunderstorm on “I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass” — felt like siesta time on Willie Nelson’s porch.
Like the first, the second set started strong, with the omni-sex “Someone’s In Love,” short and sweet with nice harmonies; then sketched hills and hollows around Hoboken and points west. Hubley shone in the Lovin’ Spoonful’s rockabilly “Butchie’s Tune,” Schramm on lap steel in “Can’t Forgo” and “Feelin’ Low.”
Most second-set songs held the same mid- to slow-tempo groove as the first, sounding less wide sonically than their albums, but hitting the same deep emotional resonance.
The a-bit-faster, kinda-Latin “Over You” and the dreamy “Awhileaway” veered furthest, but not very far, stylistically. Their plainspoken “American Gothic” stage affect spotlighted the songs and unified them, until impromptu shout-requested encores “Yellow Sarong,” “The Summer” and “Speeding Motorcyle.”
Ace engineer Mark Luecke made Yo La Tengo sound as quietly, clearly perfect as their songs.
Reach Michael Hochanadel at firstname.lastname@example.org.