Show Review: Sonic Youth, Awesome Color at The Fox Theater, 8/2/09

by Dakin Hardwick on August 3, 2009

The ever-so-youthful sonic band.

The ever-so-youthful sonic band.

Sonic Youth released their first record in 1982. Since then, they have averaged a new release every year and a half or so. (15 full length releases, in case you are keeping track.)  This doesn’t include eps, singles, benefit compilation tracks, soundtrack work, side projects, parenting, eating, sleeping, or other such things that take up time.  And, arguably, none of them have been “bad.”  Sure, you might not have listened to Murray Street in a few years, but it’s still a good record.  They are without peer in terms of longevity and consistency.  They have a  live presence that has always been a force to be reckoned with.  The youngest member of the band is 47, but they still play like they are in their early 20’s.

The show opened with a brief set by Michigan garage rock band Awesome Color.  They played fast and dirty, and got a few members of the crowd nodding their heads.  They were a lot of fun,  but by the end, I was getting impatient.

Sonic Youth came on stage at 9:15, which was about 40 minutes after Awesome Color finished. They opened with EVOL track “Tom Violence.”  The stage was dimly lit, using a lot of darker hues and creating a consistent trippy-spooky effect. The band ran through several tracks off of the new record, The Eternal, which is the poppiest record that they’ve put out in years, but the intensity of the lighting, as well as the performance itself, made the songs come off bigger, more aggressive, and a bit stranger as well.

The next catalog song they played was “Hey Joni,” the Joni Mitchell/Jimi Hendrix tribute track from Daydream Nation, another of the very few tracks played from a record other than The Eternal.  The audience was very upbeat, and didn’t seem to be annoyed by the fact that few classics were played.  People danced to themselves, sang along, and enjoyed the show very respectfully. Everyone stayed that way for a good solid 40 minutes or so, and then, halfway through “Walkin Blue,” something switched in the audience.  Everything exploded in to the type of show that was depicted in the classic video to “Dirty Boots,” where a huge pit broke out, and bodies were literally flying everywhere! Even the classic ending to the video was re-enacted by a couple in the crowd that met in the center of the pit to make out. (Sadly, I don’t think they met this night, and the band didn’t play the song.)

The show was fierce, the crowd energy was astonishing, and all of the new material seemed to be received with the same enthusiasm as the older songs.  Steve  Shelley is a monster on drums, playing the complex rhythms that Sonic Youth employ with the kind of precision that only comes from continuously challenging oneself for nearly 30 years.  Mark Ibold, formerly of Pavement, has been playing with Sonic Youth since the Rather Ripped tour, and has managed to find his own footing with the band on this tour, no longer hiding in the back, but interacting with the other members of the band and showing some real confidence.  Kim Gordon alternated between bass and guitar, often playing higher notes while Mark played lower notes on the double-bass songs, sending your head swimming in the low end, while trading riffs with Lee Renaldo and Thurston Moore on her guitar tracks, leading to a blissful 3-guitar assault.

The one thing different in this show, versus past Sonic Youth shows, was how rare alternate methods of playing were utilized.  Thurston and Kim used a file to strum on a handful of songs, and Lee pulled out a violin bow for a song.  They still employed a bit of experimentation, but primarily with volume, effects pedals and tunings as opposed to using treated guitars and the unusual strumming tools of past tours.

The band avoided playing any of their radio singles, and also avoided anything from their Geffen records days (1990-2007), opting to only play songs from the band’s time as an indie band, seemingly to represent their newly refound freedom on Matador Records.

The show ended with a brutal take on the punky Daydream Nation track “Cross The Breeze,” then releasing the sweaty masses in to the cool August air.

Here is the setlist, with a few gear notes:

Mad they didn't play 100%?  Blame it on the bull in the heather...

Mad they didn't play 100%? Blame it on the bull in the heather...

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Vanessa Romero August 3, 2009 at 7:43 pm

I know maybe 5 Sonic Youth songs, none of which were played.

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