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London Shepherd's Bush Empire

A classic.

London Shepherd's Bush Empire

You still here, then? Believe everything you've heard, and it'd seem that the time to tolerate Sonic Youth was up. First 'Goodbye 20th Century', the patience-testing double CD of modern classical discord, then their set of freestyle noise at All Tomorrow's Parties, suggested the band were being drawn back into the subterranean art world that spawned them. Who needs the old and pretentious when stroppy guitar-chuckers like ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead are around to pick up the more immediate fragments of their legacy?

Well, hold those obituaries a while longer. From the bewitching clang of 'Schizophrenia' through to the final poisoned lurch of '100%', Sonic Youth are amazing. For one thing, with the flailing addition of gentleman Jim O'Rourke on bass and electronics, they've rediscovered an urgency and attack. As they shred up a scabrous 'White Kross', or as Lee Ranaldo throws his guitar into the crowd during 'Kool Thing', it's obvious Sonic Youth still make the vast majority of bands who've striven to emulate their majesty, their fearlessness, their sheer fuck-off avant-punk power look laughable.

Beneath vast projections of New York street scenes, there's a sense of a band remembering their taste for drama. Amid those fondly mangled old favourites, the songs from the new 'NYC Ghosts & Flowers' are no less affecting. So the likes of 'Free City Rhymes' and the title track throb out as fractious elegies for their home town and its more culturally extreme inhabitants, with which the Youth self-importantly - but deservedly - align themselves.

What's most touching, however, is Thurston Moore's enduring pettiness. "If there's any weekly rock journalists in the audience who haven't left already, you might want to scoot now," he announces, before Kim Gordon honks and caterwauls through 'NYC...''s one duff track, 'Lightnin'' (Predictable? Us?). He might revel in being an underground improv mover and shaker, but Moore's also still thin-skinned and uptight enough to want the glory of being a rock star, too.

Machine-gunning the moshpit with his guitar, the deathlessly snotty adolescent triumphing over the theorist godfather, his is a fantastic tantrum of a performance. What they're all so transparently aware of here - and what it's been so easy to forget of late - is that it's incredible fun being in Sonic Youth. They can do anything, and get away with it. Sometimes, they can be generous, and get off on the gratitude. And, once in a while, even these most contrary geniuses can still surprise and stun. A classic.

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