NEW YORK — As the leader of the Kinks, Ray Davies might be counted on to know the iconic British rock band's catalog better than anyone.
But that's not the case, Davies admitted during an intimate performance Wednesday night that included collaborations with indie-rockers Yo La Tengo.
"I'm humbled. ... I stand before you in the presence of people who know my work better than I do," Davies said of Yo La Tengo, who have long cited the Kinks as a major influence.
The Hoboken, N.J., trio — guitarist Ira Kaplan, drummer Georgia Hubley and bassist James McNew — backed Davies on a set of new songs from his forthcoming solo album, along with such Kinks nuggets as "No Return," which Yo La Tengo have covered in the past, and "Animal Farm" (RealAudio excerpt of Kinks version).
"I swear, I've never played that since we recorded it," a grinning Davies said after he and Yo La Tengo played "This Is Where I Belong," a '60s Kinks B-side.
The band "blackmailed" Davies into reaching deep into the Kinks' history, he said. "They said they'd only do this if I did certain things."
Yo La Tengo, who, like Davies, performed most of the show seated, provided low-key, folk-rock accompaniment during several of his new songs, which were in the pastoral mode of midperiod Kinks.
"Let's learn to forgive together ... you were my next-door neighbor," Davies sang on the gentle "Next Door Neighbor."
Hubley propelled another new song, the doubting-lovers chronicle "Creatures of Little Faith," with brushes on her cymbals and hi-hat, while her bandmates rode a lightly chugging groove.
But the band indulged its noise-rock tendencies on the new "The Morning After," which found Kaplan — who spent much of his time onstage with his back to the audience — playing a feedback-laden, spasmodic solo.
On another new song, "Otis Riffs," Davies celebrated the pleasures of classic soul music. And in "Bridge for Dreams," the most British of British Invasion rockers sang about, of all things, Americans going home for Thanksgiving.
Davies also played some songs accompanied only by backing guitarist Pete Matheson, and a few others accompanied by a rhythm section he identified only as the "elegant duo."
Davies dipped back into the Kinks catalog for heartfelt versions of "Village Green" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Celluloid Heroes," and raucous takes on "All Day and All of the Night," "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" and "You Really Got Me."
"I was gonna make everyone wear children's Gap clothes tonight," Davies joked before "All Day and All of the Night," referring to a current TV ad in which a prepubescent rock group is seen playing the Kinks' "You Really Got Me."
The 56-year-old Davies, whose thinning gray hair stood straight up, mad-scientist style, was relaxed throughout the show, which he referred to as an "experimental evening."
"It's like practicing with Ray in his apartment," said Thomas Emma, a 32-year-old fan from Long Island.
Emma was one of several rabid Kinks fans who said that they hadn't been familiar with Yo La Tengo before the show.
"I thought they were admirable," said Dennis Hecht, a 47-year-old from Staten Island. "It was a thrill to hear the earlier songs."
Davies and Yo La Tengo are scheduled to perform two more shows at the Jane Street Theatre, on Thursday (Aug. 24) and Friday.