February 25th, 2011 | Live reviews

Yo La Tengo’s not touring behind an album. They’re touring behind 26 years of existence, taking their catalog on tour as The Freewheeling Yo La Tengo, in which the geek-rock pioneers spin a wheel to see what set the band will start with. Will it be a set by Condo Fucks, the bands lo-fi, cover-song alter ego? Or Dump, the moniker of bassist James McNew? Well, on this lucky night, fans were treated to a rendition of an episode of a classic sitcom—in this case, “SpongeBob Squarepants.” For the record, frontman Ira Kaplan’s Mr. Krabs is dead-on, while drummer Georgia Hubley’s Squidward is perhaps too subdued; McNew displayed the perfect combination of naivete and enthusiasm for SpongeBob. People were generally responsive at first, cheering and laughing, then devolved into talking once the schtick wore thin. The episode concerns SpongeBob getting his 15 minutes of fame and then losing it when his talents come up short, only to regain his fans for doing the same thing he started doing: making Krabby Patties. As with most episodes of “SpongeBob,” it’s quick-witted and quietly brilliant.

Oh! The show part was really good too. Yo La took a few minutes and came back out as Condo Fucks to play a couple of songs, including the awesome “With a Girl Like You,” originally by the Troggs. After a second, kind of long intermission, they came back for a mishmash set of Yo La Tengo classics both new and old. They started with a few laid-back numbers, like I Am Not Afraid of You and I Can Beat Your Ass’s “I Feel Like Going Home” and a gorgeous acoustic version of “Black Flowers.” Highlights from the band’s many years together dotted the set, generally funkier and more psychedelic than on disc, from “Autumn Sweater” to “Tom Courtenay” to the second version of Painful’s “Big Day Coming.” Openers The Urinals returned to play two songs as a megaband, which was cool and unexpected, although I would have rather heard more Yo La Tengo or a punk version of a YLT song. Overall it wasn’t the kind of greatest-hits set some fans may have hoped for, and you could quibble over song choice (No “If It’s True” or “Avalon Or Someone Very Similar” from the band’s newest album, Popular Songs? Por qué no?) but it showed a band who’s willing to change things up to keep things unpredictable.

—Billy Gil