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Sonic Youth at the Fox Theater

By Tony Hicks
Monday, August 3rd, 2009 at 12:21 pm in Uncategorized.

Fox Oakland before Sonic Youth gig

I don’t know if they’re posting it yet on the site or not, but here’s my review of Sunday night’s Sonic Youth show at the Fox Theater in Oakland:

By Tony Hicks

With the constant on-stage cycle of screeching noise, stomach-dropping dynamics, pseudo-violent guitar hammering shifting into gentle dreamlike floating, one almost expects Sonic Youth to blow a musical gasket at some point.

Some of us have been waiting for years. Somehow they still have more than plenty of all that bottled-up fierceness they let loose every night on stage. There was no shortness of it Sunday night at Oakland’s nearly sold-out Fox Theater.

Just when we thought they were settling down with their last few records, they reach back to the “Daydream Nation” days, make a record defying nearly a decade of songs with well-placed, drifting melody as present as their traditional noise-punk, and slam our ears Sunday by playing almost the entire new record “The Eternal.”

That’s a sure sign that a band is more concerned with moving forward when they ignore much of more than two decades of material to do what hungry bands with something to prove do: proudly present the new stuff and get people on the same page with the 2009 version of Sonic Youth (not to mention get ’em out to buy the record).

Sunday’s show was everything fans have come to expect from the post-punk alt-noise pioneers, one of the most important American alternative bands of the past 25 years or so.

With hardly any let-up for more than 90 minutes, Sonic Youth gave us the typically great show fans expect. The first great moment came during a breakdown in “Sacred Trickster,” where Thurston Moore’s and Lee Ranaldo’s nasty guitar morphed into beautiful noise that built out with guitarist/bassist/singer Kim Gordon screaming her way back into the song. Ranaldo’s powerful “Hey Joni” slid into drummer Steve Shelley pounding the band, and the whole theater, through “Anti-Orgasm.” Ranaldo and Moore fell into some of the best non-coordinated-yet-completely-in-sync guitar dueling you’ll hear in “Walkin’ Blue.” “Malibu Gas Station” featured Ranaldo playing a classic up-and-down lead while more banged out the rhythm as if he was trying to drown him out.

With a band like Sonic Youth, it’s almost impossible to really get into a new record until you see them play it live, because CDs just can’t replicate their live power. As much as it’s a guitar band, drummer Steve Shelley really drives the new material, with lots of tom beats and tempo pushing on “Antenna,” which was a necessary grounding of the song while Moore went crazy sliding his guitar up and down his amp.

Moore and Ranaldo went at it again during “What We Know,” after letting new bassist Mark Ibold (formerly of Pavement) lay down the song’s sneaky groove. They just basically ratcheted up the volume like they were playing sonic chicken.

Having played few older songs (and nothing from the previous records), the band went back to “Daydream Nation” to wrap things up with a dynamic “The Sprawl” and a herky-jerky “Cross the Breeze,” making the point that they’re still every bit the explosive band they were two decades ago.

Photo of Fox Oakland theater by Flickr user allaboutgeorge used under Creative Commons license

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