Saturday, September 01, 2007


Thurston Moore described the sound of Sonic Youth’s New York trilogy of albums (NYC ghosts and flowers – Murray street – Sonic nurse) as Black Flag playing Bare Trees­-era Fleetwood Mac. It’s a great description – and perhaps it’s no coincidence that I have always wanted SY to cover FM’s Rumours, just like Camper van Beethoven did with Tusk­ – imagine Kim Gordon doing “Gold dust woman” as a kind of Broken English style torch-song…

Even if their artiness and jazziness and improvisational seriousness is rooted in the early 80s no-fi scene in New York, even if their prophets were Glenn Branca and DNA and Teenage Jesus, they always hang their more protracted tendencies over a structure that is, in essence, pretty straightforward. They play songs, most of which have verses and choruses and middle eights (it is the middle eights where SY crank up the feedback and often produce their most enraptured moments), and they sing about William Gibson and Andy Warhol and Joni Mitchell. Really, they’re just a great rock band, a bit like Fleetwood Mac, except where FM made the subversive popular, SY make the popular subversive.

On Thursday, I was lucky enough to be taken to the Roundhouse by these two good people to see SY play Daydream nation (my favourite album in the whole wide world) in its entirety. The last time I saw SY live, at Brixton in 2004, they were very flat, and finished with an “Expressway to yr skull” that went on for half an hour. I walked out of the Academy, bought the t-shirt and pretended that I had enjoyed myself, but in truth, it was dull.

Last night was revelatory. SY played their landmark with a rare attention to detail. Having seen John Martyn perform Solid air out of sequence last year, I was worried that SY might do the same with Daydream nation. This would have been a mistake – Daydream nation is not an arbitrarily assembled collection of songs ; it is a 70-minute rhapsody. The whole piece ebbs and flows beautifully, rhythms and melodies accumulating and mutating from ferocity to fragility to carnality, and thankfully SY played it faithfully, restraining their more meandering urges and keeping it hip-claspingly tight.

SY are not usually the sort of band you dance to – like their great hero Neil Young, there is always a scent of Death Valley, Helter Skelter evil in their music – but I couldn’t resist a whole lot of lurching on Thursday – especially to "‘Cross the breeze", Kim Gordon’s brutally childlike centrepiece, and to all three of Lee Ranaldo’s (who looked more like a palaeontologist than ever), roaring, wired, chugging garage anthems. “Providence,” the ansaphone-message-as-song which provides an interval on the record served the same, functional purpose at the show, but I have always found that track exceptionally beautiful :

The second half was, if anything, more driven then the first – “Rain king,” “Kissability” and the Trilogy were all violence and tension, undercut with the pounding, Mo Tucker-like drums of Steve Shelley. And after Kim’s lustful panegyric to her “poor rich boy coming right through me”, they came on again and played the singles from last year’s Rather ripped, and “Mote” from Goo, and “What a waste”, in which Kim danced bewitchingly, like a euphoric teenager – and then, like us, they were gone, off to daydream new dreams in another daydream nation.


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