Review by Graeme J. Baty
This last year has been quite a retro period for me. Stephen Malkmus last summer, J Mascis in the winter and now Thurston Moore. It’s like I’m reliving the 90s, thankfully not in a purely retro throwback binge because these artists are still highly credible, relevant and active 20+ years on.
Sonic Youth are a band that I’ve been obsessed with since I started playing guitar back in 1997. Their music was unlike anything I’d ever heard and I was captivated with how they made those sounds. They became one of my all time favourites and still are to this very day. Which is saying something as I generally have a short attention span and move on to my next obsession pretty fast.
Many and various reasons over the years have led to me not being able to see Sonic Youth live, mainly financial and transport ones but I digress! At the time I thought to myself ‘not to worry they’ll be around forever, I’ll catch them next time’. Well that proved a mistake so when Moore announced this intimate show I snapped up tickets.
Whilst many would have been hoping to hear some of the old Sonic Youth classics personally I was less concerned as Moore’s new material is tremendous. Thankfully the audience appeared to share my view and there were no calls for older and better known songs to be aired.
I arrived really early to get a decent spot and was pleased to catch unannounced support artist Michael Chapman. An unknown to many (John Peel was a fan and played him) he’s been around for quite a while and has one hell of a back catalogue. Now in his 70s he still mesmerises with his guitar playing. An unsung guitar hero for sure. Masterful technique, if you close your eyes you can imagine he’s playing a 12 string, yet he creates that sound from 6 strings and makes it look easy in the process. His performance was a rare treat.
Next up the main event and a widely recognised guitar hero. The face of ‘cool’ alternative scene for the last 30 odd years. Towering above the other members of the band an ageing Moore is still a highly captivating performer. Catching eyes with him is quite an intense experience.
They kick off the night with ‘Forevermore’ which is one of the highlights of the recent album. The setlist is not much of a surprise looking at his previous concerts this year. However we are treated to some new material. Moore joked at one point that they recorded their second album last week and it’s out next week. Or was he joking?! The set largely revolved around the new album ‘The Best Day’, which saw him shelve the Chelsea Light Moving name (they may return since no official split has been announced) and return back to Thurston Moore (Band).
Duel Jazzmaster harmonics bring a smile to my face for the intro to ‘Speak to the Wild’, which is an extruded version of a fairly straightforward song, in timeless Moore style it takes you on a journey; it bends, twists, wanders off on a tangent and returns effortlessly back to the point where it began.
‘Germs Burn’ proves rather special in a live setting with much more of a melodic punk vibe in a little tribute to the punk legends (The Germs but you guessed that already).
They play a new song without introducing it. It’s classic Moore with meandering arpeggios, really reminds me of some of the more laid back tracks from Murray St period. Followed by some Sonic Youth style discordancy just to make sure everyone is awake.
Another new song is introduced as ‘Aphrodite’, a song full of swagger from what he states is the new album named ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Consciousness’.
The band is phenomenal as you’d expect with a super talented percussionist such as Steve Shelley on hand to keep the band in check, embellish when it’s wig out time and reign them smoothly back into the next verse. On bass duties Moore has recruited none other than My Bloody Valentine’s Debbie Googe. An incredible player and such amazingly hypnotic blue eyes.
I was standing next to Joseph from WAKE (a local band making waves in the music scene) when Moore noticed his 1970 t-shirt. “That’s a Stooges song you know?” says Moore dedicating the song to Joseph‚ and yes he does know as he’s a huge fan.
A relatively short set on paper, but in reality they’re colossal works, with each song clocking in at well over the 5 minute mark, some twice that. After all these years it’s great to finally see one of the musicians that shaped my listening habits. Utterly fantastic.