The dignified slowdown of the NYC band remains noisy, edgy and experimental...
A strikingly tall, floor-to-ceiling candid camera film plays as a backdrop. It is unmistakably a NYC corner . In the foreground, Thurston Moore is torturing his guitar with a drumstick. Intermittent strobe flashes from the front of stage cast stuttering shadows of a disproportionately large Moore against the street scene. The metaphor for the influence that Sonic Youth has had on NYC might be obvious but it’s no less stunning.
The introspective, controlled, adult Sonic Youth of today battles it out with the one that created the hits from ‘Goo’ and ‘Dirty’ in the early ’90s. Songs like ‘Drunken Butterfly’ represent that time when Sonic Youth produced aggressive, thunder and lightening raids on speakers and ear drums. Tonight, it takes ‘Kool Thing’ to really get the blood running, though. It’s militant, punchy, angry and full of riffs to pound your chest. There are few greater sights in rock than watching Lee Ranaldo and Moore hammering hell out their guitars to Kim Gordon’s raspy voice. And Steve Shelley bobbing his head, maracas in hand. All the moves they own come out. Timeless.
‘NYC Ghosts & Flowers’ stands apart as the best example of the maturing Sonic Youth’s power. Ranaldo’s urban monologue set to typically suffering, tormented guitar noise is riveting. It’s less angry and more observant. Narrating rather than protesting. The dignified slow down. Yeah, there are some flat stretches when the art overtakes the melody. There is also the sight of 5th wheel Jim O’Rourke (producer of the last LP) who adds green cardigan awkwardness to the hippest of stage shows.
Overwhelmingly though, there is the knowledge that Sonic Youth will forever define ‘cool’ for a generation of guitar fans. There is enough tonight to remind us of that and to pique our interest in the uncommon music they still create.