Monday, August 3rd
Better Than: The Year Punk Broke
By Brian Moss
Perhaps the quintessential indie rock band, for nearly three decades Sonic Youth has been demolishing genre conventions and redefining the sound of subculture. The band's prolific, diverse contributions and innovations over the course of sixteen albums and thousands of live performances have incorporated elements of avant-garde, experimental, art-punk, noise, post-rock, ethereal atmospherics, and even grunge. Given their legendary status, it should come as no surprise that fans frothing at the chance to see Sonic Youth play in the relatively intimate confines of the Independent were purchasing scalped tickets on Craigslist for upwards of $200.
Local openers Sic Alps took the stage around 8:30 p.m. to a rapidly filling room. Although the soupy psychedelic sound that the trio focuses on has become increasingly popular, Sic Alps' renditions display enough individuality and variation to induce charm and interest. Splicing their generally accessible reverb-soaked garage trips with dirty mod pop, the occasional bluesy guitar homage, and intermittent clamorous noise rackets, they head-bobbed and swayed their way through a regularly shifting 45 minute set.
Every other song or so the members would swap instruments with one another, laxly trading places on stage. At first the switch-ups kept things fresh, but as the repetition of role reversals wore on it grew tiresome; awkward, banter-free space in between songs grew and the difference between the musicians' aptitude on certain instruments became more apparent.
However, after a lull in the middle of the set--in which they fell into a sleepy slack of neo-jamming--Sic Alps came together for a raucous and bong-ready closer. The crowd received their set warmly, and afterwards, anticipation grew as Sonic Youth's crew prepped mics, lights, pedals, and countless alternately tuned guitars.
The floodlights pulsed and Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, Steve Shelley, and ex-Pavement bassist Mark Ibold exploded into song. They were piercingly loud, slicked, and unbelievably tight. Moore sang with intense clarity, pounded and slid across frets with drumsticks, and flailed his limbs with youthful vigor. Gordon, now primarily playing guitar, delivered sultry and gravely lines with commanding severity. Occasionally, Ranaldo took over main vocal duties with pristine results. Shelley and Ibold provided immaculate foundations beneath a nearly surreal display of calculated chaos.
Although Sonic Youth played old pleasers like "Kool Thing" the emphasis was on material off the band's latest full length effort, The Eternal, a record which partially harkens back to their earlier sounds. Lyrically, Moore, Gordon, and Ranaldo's musings on philosophy, politics, poetry, and art were both refreshing and challenging. Other than Moore's stab at Los Angeles and a brief interaction with a crowd member on love and boyfriends (see Youtube video below) the talk was kept to a minimum. Instead, gaps in between songs were filled with refined displays of experimentation and sampling that ebbed and flowed between seemingly improvised melody and cacophony.
While I'm sure some of the fans would have been pleased by an epic length set, the band opted for highly concentrated concision. After an hour they left the stage, and following the audience's beckon, shortly returned for a modest two song encore. Ultimately, at the night's end my suspicions were confirmed: Sonic Youth is without a doubt still one of the most vital and progressive bands in existence.
Personal Bias: A Sonic Youth infatuation that begun in high school.
Random Detail: According to one of the Independent's more talkative patrons, "Tofu stands for titties on a fucking unicycle."
By the way: Big ups to the Independent and Sonic Youth's sound staff. The aural aesthetics at this one were phenomenal.
Sic Alps live footage:
Sonic Youth live footage: