The first time I saw Thurston Moore perform, it was with his ‘old band’ – Sonic Youth 21 years ago. The tender age of 14 is a pretty impressionable age for someone to go to a Sonic Youth concert, but I still remember most of it. Sonic Youth were playing material from Washing Machine and other of their ‘mid-period’ albums – Daydream Nation, Goo, Dirty, and Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star. It was basically Sonic Youth at the peak of their musical and cultural powers, playing for their own audience and everything their music has spawned – a fourteen year old me was enveloped in a cloud of dust, smoke, pounding noise and 90s-ness that I hoped would never end. It of course did. The dream of the 90s – its egalitarian principles, sexual equality, ‘no-bullshit’ attitudes towards drugs and music have long since gone. Here I am in the front row at a nightclub in Denmark – almost close enough to touch Thurston More and his beat up Fender and I’m transported back to the good ‘ol days when Sonic Youth were making amazing music that could (and did) change the world, and I felt awkward and shy around people of any gender who looked hip.
I don’t know if anyone remembers the video to “Dirty Boots” – but for some reason it all sticks in my mind as like…the place I wanted to be. It’s basically a film of Sonic Youth playing a show and this beautiful girl wearing a Nirvana t-shirt is dancing in a very tame pit at a club. That is where I wanted to be when I was like 13 or 14. It never happened ‘til the other night…
(I realize I’ll never be a 13 year old girl again, or even beautiful, but the rest that follows is as close as we’ll ever get)
There was really no hope of the Thurston Moore Band playing any Sonic Youth material – a little research could tell you that. Moore is definitely focused on laying that part of his career behind him. I’m sure there were a few folks in the audience (or around 200?) that were waiting for the band to launch into “100 %” or something, but the crowd in general seemed very appeased with hearing new material – and new material we did hear…almost immediately.
The band walked on stage to a respectful and intent crowd. Moore perched stage right with his music stand and notebook – Steve Shelley (who also served in Sonic Youth’s heyday as their drummer), Deb Googe on bass (From My Bloody Valentine no less) and James Sedwards (indie veteran from London) on guitar “in the shadows”. Moore began with some polite banter and page shuffling before picking up his battered axe – “I was in a thrift store today downtown – I picked up a shirt – not this one though…” before introducing a new song from an upcoming album – “Turn it On”. It had a long winding intro – full of jagged riffs and pummeling guitars and throbbing bass. It was incredible to bear witness to a brand new song – followed by another, “Aphrodite” – more of the same – an amazing return to the structure and sound that 90s Sonic Youth grabbed me with over 20 years ago….this was legendary stuff.
The rest of the main set was peppered by a little banter with the audience – Thurston reminding us what an integral part the 80s Aarhus punk and hardcore bootlegging scene had with the pantheon of traded cassettes dubbed from ghetto blaster and soundboard recordings. “Beasts of The Wild” came as one of the early highlights of the middle numbers – the band was tight and plotted – seemingly able to communicate telepathically with each other. I’d venture to say that this was an even better and tighter performance than Sonic Youth would have been capable of 20 or 30 years ago when they last visited Aarhus – nothing was missing.
One small technical note (and one of two small reasons why I just can’t give this gig 6/6 stars) was that during the fever pitch of the band really going for it – Moore absolutely digging into his guitar – the sound man (who the band brought apparently) just seemed to push the house system past it’s breaking point and there was a very noticeable amount of “clipping” – where the speakers were worked beyond their capable means. This by no way distracted me or anyone else I could detect from enjoying the wonderful cacophony coming from the stage however.
The band rounded off their performance of the rest of their only album together – “The Best Day” with an extended ‘ambient’ intro to “Forevermore”. There were quite a few people very close to the front that had been having conversations throughout the whole show – even over the nearly deafening maelstrom that the act was purveying – and it all seem to come to a head. A couple just behind me were laughing and shouting at each other during this part – several people shot them dirty glances and then finally someone told them to “Shut the fuck up” just as the band launched into the haunting drone of one of the album’s standouts. It begs the question yet again: why do people go to shows and fucking TALK through the whole damn thing in this town? It’s cuntish and embarrassing to have literally one of the most influential figures in modern music standing at arms length away from you in your little town and have some of the village idiots talking at high volume through an improvised introduction to such a beautiful song. Have some fucking dignity and respect for yourself, and others. For fuck’s sake. It’s a growing problem at shows in this town.
The band left the stage for a moment and of course came back for an encore. The next song was introduced as “a song I had in ’93 or ‘94” – hinting that it could have been an unreleased Sonic Youth track possibly. I didn’t catch the name of the number – but it was an epic winding piece with loads of tempo changes and themes – much too complex seemingly to have ended up on a Sonics record – we were being treated to more gold.
After one more tune from “The Best Day” – the show was over. It was one of the most perfect concerts I can honestly say I have ever been to. If you asked me beforehand what would be the perfect concert from this band – I would say – “Thurston Moore playing new material, kicking ass with his tight band, small venue, and maybe a Sonic youth song I’d never heard before” – so they nailed that.
I doubt Sonic Youth will ever perform together again – and frankly – there’s no need for them when you can go see Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley (technically ½ of SY) with the added bonus of a MBV member and the fantastic talents of Sedwards. The only catch is – you might have to suffer through a sub-par sound or some mongoloid bumpkins talking through it. I really had one of the best experiences though of my life – nostalgia aside – this band is still relevant, vital and essential listening for any fan of good rock music. Period.
I really had one of the best experiences though of my life – nostalgia aside – this band is still relevant, vital and essential listening for any fan of good rock music. Period. (5.5/6)