Volume 19 Issue 41 | Feb. 23 - March 1, 2007
Concert Review

Sonic Youth still making noise

By Todd Simmons

“It’s good to be back at The Ritz”, Thurston Moore dryly declared before unleashing gales of feedback from his sticker-laden guitar; one of thirty that Sonic Youth had at their disposal Friday night. The band has been a downtown fixture long enough now to actually remember when Webster Hall was still called The Ritz in the early 80’s. On a frozen Friday night on E. 11th St. it was all about guitars and noise and veteran players laying down the laws of distortion. It was shards of fractured harmonics and inimitable tunings, buoyed by a muscular rhythm section, held down by the drumming of underrated stick-man Steve Shelley and a double-bass guitar rumble.

Leaning heavily on songs from Rather Ripped, their most straight-ahead record in years, Sonic Youth delivered a set loaded with abstracted noise explosions and tightly melodic post-punk tunes, while the backdrop crept and crawled with disquieting films (notably a Coney Island “Shoot The Freak” clip) from video artist Tony Oursler.

They are joined on this tour by former Pavement bassist Mark Ibold who either doubled up with Kim Gordon for an extra-heavy rhythm-section bottom or freed her to sing without the burden of a bass slung around her neck. On those songs (“Reena” and “Bull In The Heather”) she danced around in her silver lamé dress, a pink cord snaking from her mic, with loose-limbed abandon. That dress shone during a razor-sharp rendition of the band’s classic from Daydream Nation, “Silver Rocket.” Guitar wizard Lee Ranaldo took his turn on vocals for the excellent new track “Rats” and the evocative Washing Machine tune “Skip Tracer”.

Like their Williamsburg shows last August (with Yeah Yeah Yeahs) at McCarren Pool, there was a relaxed humor to the band on stage, a neighborhood familiarity that created an inclusive kind of atmosphere in the crowd. Moore asked for Brooklyn Lager at one point and later did a geographical breakdown of all the band member’s current living situations. “Just walk along lower Broadway and check all the buzzers for Ranaldo” he said. “Tell him I sent you”.

This is a band with unbridled confidence on stage and a constant urge to explore that keeps the whole thing vital while making it look so effortless. With their wholly unique two-pronged beehive guitar sound and ultra-cool narratives, Sonic Youth is a highly credentialed band that continues to play with the hunger of upstarts.

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