Monisha and I went to hear Sonic Youth in Berkeley. I think we got the last tickets for the whole show. Our seats, as you can see from the pic, were at the very top back row of the balcony. We could see better than the cellphone pic lets on, and the sound was actually quite good from way up there…nosebleeds but not earbleeds. Here are some better pix from a different show in Chicago.
I was psyched as the program was a full rendition of SY classic Daydream Nation, a sprawling double album that Pitchfork Media has dubbed the most important album of the 1980s. They opened with a dead-on version of their big alt.hit from the album, “Teenage Riot,” and proceeded to tear through the album with no commentary and a lot of energy. I won’t recount a blow by blow, but “Candle” was great, and the difficult-to-do-live “Providence” was tremendous blast of noise. One concert-goer I overheard described the Daydream portion of the show as “eight distractions with a drummer in the middle” which was kind of fitting, I think it might have been a compliment. I have duly added “the distractions” to my list of band names in case I run out.
I looked over to see how Monisha was faring. Her tastes lean toward Kanda Bongo Man and Mozart. She has a fantastic ear and no patience for any singer who is the least bit off key. I doubted she would like them, but was surprised. Monisha had this look of sort of a combination of shock and entrancement and later said once she got used to it she began to hear the music in the noise and appreciate that they were very serious about what they were doing, not just throwing things together. She also thought Kim Gordon was a blast, because she wasn’t playing the tambourine and looking pretty but a central part of the band on bass and vocals. I’m hoping Mo will take some time and share her thoughts herself.
“Providence” was perhaps the most interesting piece. On the album it is a treated piano or something like that, with a phone answering machine of Thurston Moore’s (one of the two guitarists) father berating him [N.B. see comments for a correction on this and more on the instrumentation] and telling him he’s too stoned and a fuck up and better get his act together. Gradually, Mr. Moore the elder gets drowned out in a wall of unearthly noise. I have always like the song, having had a similar relationship with dear old dad. Answering such a message with a song that literally obliterates it with what he is doing always seemed a lovely concept to me. Live the emphasis was on the noise, and Thurston had some sort of contraption next to his guitar amp that produced the requisite squealing and howling. Monisha was impressed.
The second half of the show was mostly new stuff from Rather Ripped, including a fantastic version of “Incinerate.” The minimalist, uncharacteristically mellow “Do you believe in Rapture” came off much better live than on the CD I think. It would have made a great closer, but fortunately for us, we got another few songs after that. The band sounds very different on the newer stuff. Each player has more space, they seem like they have grown really good at listening and responding to each other musically. I think I liked the newer stuff better than Daydream. For about half of the newer songs Mark Ibold came out and covered for Kim Gordon’s arthritic fingers. She then went nuts doing a sort of really cool interpretive dance along with giving her full attention to the vocals. It added a great visual element to the show.