Stepping up to the mic a few songs into the performance, guitarist Lee Ranaldo briefly dropped a disclaimer that the band would be playing a lot of new songs; he was right. As the first chords of "No Way" began to reverberate throughout First Avenue, Sonic Youth immediately set a trend that would remain consistent throughout its performance: playing all but one song ("Thunderclap for Bobby Pyn") from it's latest album The Eternal, the band didn't necessarily concentrate on distancing itself from its hefty back catalog of classic noise, it simply focused who Sonic Youth had become after some 30 years.
Though not quite as young as Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon's daughter Coco (15), the crowd was as diverse in age as any other I'd seen in recent memory. And what better way to appeal to such an audience than by appeasing it with music that most everyone would be familiar with? As such, after Moore introduced "No Way" as a song about "How beautiful it is to fall in love," the band continued on with another pair from The Eternal, "Sacred Trickster" and "Calming the Snake." Not to let down die-hard fans (or those who are simply interested in really, really good music from the late '80s) Gordon and Moore grabbed a pair of metal files and took them to their instruments, creating a haze that would later become "Silver Rocket" from Sonic Youth's landmark album Daydream Nation.
Aside from the seizure-inducing light show (words do little to describe how much it helped enhance the performance however) the focus was primarily on the music, with Ranaldo, Gordon, and Moore trading vocal duties but rarely speaking to the crowd. "We drove all the way out here to see you, so thanks for coming out," mentioned Moore before Gordon introduced the next song as "Antiiiiiiii-Orgasm."
Following "Malibu Gas Station," Moore led the way on vocals as the band sliced into "(I Got A) Catholic Block" from its 1987 release Sister. From there the band continued to play out tracks from The Eternal, Gordon cheekily prefacing "Leaky Lifeboat" by saying "Thanks, your enthusiasm is hot." While ending the main set with another song from Sister, "Stereo Sanctity," the highlight from Sonic Youth's first stint on the stage came with The Eternal's lengthy final song "Massage the History." The longest, fuzziest jam of the night had Moore in the rare position of sitting on a stool with an acoustic guitar (though that did little to stop him from manipulating the hell out of the instrument); it was intensely loud and the song's energy was eventually reflected in the crowd which started clapping in sync and cheering half way through.
Playing two separate encores, the first included "What We Know" and a third song from Sister, "White Kross" (which concluded by Gordon and Moore flirtatiously forcing their axes together; one of their few shows of emotion throughout the show). Making the fans work for one last song the band took the stage for the final time, playing "Death Valley '69" from the band's 1985 album Bad Moon Rising. It was as intense as anything the band had played all night and left the crowd (at least from what I could see) genuinely satisfied.
Though it would've been nice to have had the band revisit some old favorites (say, "Teenage Riot" as it did at the State Fair a few years back), this performance did well in depicting a band that is so full of energy and exiting (new) music that despite its members' ages (Gordon's 56!), the end is clearly no where in sight.
"Calming The Snake"
"Malibu Gas Station"
"(I Got A) Catholic Block"
"Massage the History"
"What We Know" (first encore)
"White Kross" (first encore)
"Death Valley '69" (second encore)
[This article was first published by City Pages.]