By: Cal Roach
Sonic Youth :: 07.31.09 :: Ogden Theatre :: Denver, CO
The scene outside the Ogden Theatre at show time was chaotic. Shady asshats were trying to squeeze fans for 80 bucks a ticket, and there were tons of out-of-luck stragglers. I'm told that artists often underestimate the size of the ticket buying public in Denver, so I guess this wasn't out of the ordinary. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that despite the demand, the venue didn't seem oversold; it was packed, but not like a sardine tin. The mood of the crowd was energetic enough for a stadium, though, with the roar that went up when Thurston Moore lumbered onto the stage, you'd have thought he was a rock star or something.
I wasn't expecting "Stereo Sanctity" as the opener, but it really worked, Moore establishing his unmistakable six-string howl immediately, a musical presence that is simply unparalleled. The last time I'd seen Sonic Youth had been an almost somber experience. They played Daydream Nation in its entirety, and the landmark album confined them like a straightjacket, while the encore of the new Rather Ripped material was clearly what their hearts were into. Thus, it shouldn't have been a surprise that they played all but one song from the brand new album, The Eternal (released June 9, 2009 by Matador Records), and that the band was explosive compared with the nostalgia trip I'd witnessed two years ago.
To begin with, Thurston was jumping around like a crazy person, clearly feeling it, rather than his forbidding, wooden performance of 2007. You can talk about other guitarists "shredding" but this is a guy who brings visual and sonic clarity to that term, just as acutely on the new material as ever before. Creative yet concise, he tore apart "Sacred Trickster," and then it was Kim Gordon's turn to take the spotlight, screeching with a freakish sexuality on the monstrous "Calming The Snake." This song achieved instant classic status as I witnessed it live, the epitome of prog-punk, a searing blast of spontaneous emotion contained within a flawless composition. "Anti-Orgasm" was busted down into its metal essence then taken to its most perversely melodic extreme before swelling in a swathe of tension and exploding, absolutely incredible. "Poison Arrow" was King Crimson-meets-The Velvet Underground plus a dash of Germs, and "Malibu Gas Station" was downright Nirvana-esque (yes, it's okay to be influenced by your offspring), but each song was instantly recognizable as just one band.
Apart from the new stuff, the obvious highlights were the liberated Daydream tracks (the two albums covered all but two songs of the set). "Hey Joni" was perfectly executed geekpop, and "Silver Rocket" was half '80s hardcore, half shoegaze progenitor, Thurston & Co. taking their time with the occasionally-rhythmic noise jam, then slamming the song home con brio. And after a picturesque take on the elegant "Massage The History" ended the set proper, we got an absolutely unbeatable combo: "The Sprawl," sounding as modern and fresh as any Pitchfork darling of today, and "'Cross The Breeze," the "Stairway To Heaven" of indie rock, frightening in its precision and passion. With the pristine sound in the Ogden, you could hear jaws drop.
The only lull in the entire show was "Walkin' Blue," which sucked a little energy out of the room following "Orgasm," but just-as-ballady "Antenna" flowed naturally out of "Rocket," and "What We Know" made a pop-perfect second encore until the avant-growl of "Death Valley '69," complete with a Moore/Lee Ranaldo guitar fencing match, reminded us with authority how prescient this band was even in 1984. They were innovators; this is incontestable. Judging by this show, they still are, pushing and/or ignoring boundaries, evolving their songs night after night, bringing scenes together, refining their songcraft, and retaining their inimitable essence.
Sonic Youth tour dates available here.
JamBase | Youthful
Go See Live Music!