Venue: Scala, London.
“The guitar guy played real good feedback and super sounding riffs, he had his mild mannered look on – man, he was truly hip!” In 1995 a 39 year old Lee Renaldo said exactly where it’s at and it’s almost too incredible to believe that Sonic Youth are still the hippest, coolest, most vital, most inspiring and wildest rock n roll band on the planet. But dude, seriously they are! They never sold out, they always kept it real! They were well on their way to middle age before they even signed to a major label! For 30 years they’ve surfed the cool of the underground: cutting their own little corner, crafting their work like art students, each album advancing them a little further forward, never looking back. They are no comeback band, they never left. They’re still right there, they know where it’s at... chasing the dream fifteen albums in and from the sound of the new material played tonight, the new record sounds to be as creative and groundbreaking as the last.
Thurston Moore casually walks out onstage in jeans and sneakers and a stripy jumper and grins mischievously at the audience. The interval music is still playing in London’s thousand-capacity Scala, the house lights are still blazing, and Thurston walks on, picks up a guitar and starts tuning it like he’s an unknown from a support band. The crowd erupts and I’m right there on the front row, hands on the railings. Thurston wedges a drum stick savagely between his guitar strings and starts playing the opening of She Is Not Alone. Kim walks on stage looking fabulous and calmly picks up her bass. Steve jumps behind the skins. Lee is the last on stage; he raises a coffee cup to the audience and grins the biggest grin imaginable as the band begins to play.
Bull In The Heather thumps a steady groove and demands a call to arms, Hey Joni bowls us all over like an express train pulling you right to the here and now. Tom Violence takes us down low and Schizophrenia pulls us right back up again. There’s time to reflect on The Sprawl and time still to Cross The Breeze. Thurston Moore crashes against the PA stack, leans out over the audience and plays a wild and mean guitar solo, his eyes looking up to the gods, lost in the Sonic maelstrom. The dude’s so close he almost takes my eye out with his guitar headstock and I have to move quick. Kim Gordon is ice cold and ice cool with the longest legs for five States, her face hidden under long blond hair as she slurs out her punk poetry. Steve Shelley pummels away at the drum kit while Lee Renaldo holds together some super riffs and steady vocals. He holds his guitar out over the audience as eager fans reach up to add their own biological textures to the beat. “Speak English dude…” demands Thurston as Lee stumbles to introduce his new song I’ll Be In Your Dream If You Be In Mine, another awesome rocker that continues to push the Youth’s Sonic art forward.
The band finished on Kool Thing and all would agree that’s exactly what it was. A very cool thing. Thirty years on and the band are still right there, making the music they love, they’ve never stopped to take count of the years, like that never really seemed important or part of the plan, to get caught up in some rock n roll cliché. Big grins all around from the band members, liberal use of the word dude, unassuming cool leaping all over the stage playing wild solos and totally grooving to their own unique sound. It was just that kind of gig, just that kind of cool, just totally awesome. The other band members are gone now and we’re left with Thurston Moore walking absently about the stage, wiping the mop of hair from his eyes, pulling on his guitar tremolo, winding switches on stomp boxes, kneeling over his guitar placed face down on the floor against the frantic mess of electrical cabling, reaching like an ironmonger up to the stack, holding his guitar high above his head, grinding the fret board against the edge of his amp…..