On a certain level, there is nothing to the mythology of music but an infinitely receding series of lists. You could list your favourite use of the sound of a subway going over overground tracks in rap albums, or spend an entire week using lists as an excuse to see if your hits go up when you post every day, or you could go with something a little more universal. Quintessential New York bands? There’s the Velvet Underground, the Ramones, maybe even the Strokes if the hagiography is up to date. Then there’s Sonic Youth.
If you’re still a little doe-eyed about the city (and it does help to stay a little doe-eyed, especially if you’ve been around a while and your friends are starting to say “you look neglected” with an increasing tone of sympathy) there isn’t much more fairytale than Sonic Youth, for free, outdoors in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. In honour of that, I’m going to go back to the “self-indulgent adjective stream” roots of this blog to describe it.
Out of reverence for their status as “game-changers”, Sonic Youth were allowed by Celebrate Brooklyn! to choose their own supports. Onanistically enough, both Talk Normal (drum-heavy, droning krautrock era) and Grass Widow (disaffected college rock era with added synthesis) sound like they’ve spent their bedroom years ripping through the Sonic Youth back catalogue, and food chain economics have left Thurston and Kim listening to the modern day echoes of themselves. Both bands fit the occasion, neither changed lives.
And then there was Sonic Youth. Some bands are so totemic that it seems redundant to even talk about them much any more, but I’m going to try. Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore, even though they’re reaching Rolling Stones-esque “too old” territory by most conventional standards, exist in a symbiotic space, with guitars that don’t sit in regular tuning and don’t have any time for regular tunes. The way they interact, at all the different stops between double-silence and double-white noise, is so intuitive that it’s almost shamanic. This is what makes Sonic Youth Sonic Youth, even with voices bad and getting worse, and Steve Shelley missing a beat every now and then.
The set list was almost entirely 80s, and leaned heavily on Daydream Nation, which is further proof of the fact that they’re moving in the direction of what Carles would call a “legacy” band even as they continue to release albums. But it is what it is. It’s The Sprawl into Cross The Breeze with the sun going down in a park. It’s Kim Gordon thanking the swathes of people sitting out the back on the hills on picnic rugs with brown bags and no less enthusiasm, and then ten minutes later singing Shaking Hell from the Confusion Is Sex. It’s not Teen Age Riot, because it never is, but that’s okay.
There’s a sum total of maybe three bands in the world who would get away with a ten minute noise jam at the end of the last song of their encore but, with the lists in mind again, there can’t be many sights better than Thurston Moore with his guitar over the top of his head, rolling it against a mic stand while Kim Gordon is on her knees offering up her bass, Lee Ranaldo is feeding back squalls and Steve Shelley is hitting a cymbal with another cymbal. For ten minutes. Go in cynical, as maybe you should, and it’s a little much. But suspend disbelief and it’s an acid trip version of Hades from the Disney Hercules.
It’s Sonic fucking Youth.