Thursday, August 18, 2011

Summer Spell--Sonic Youth Live 8/12/11

8/12/11

Williamsburg Waterfront
New York, NY
Note: this is the truncated version. The full review of our weekend will appear in the No Setlist sequel, Spirit Desire. The pre-show writings have been edited for this blog, and everything I wrote about post-show has been omitted as well as Kurt Vile and Wild Flag's opening sets. Again, all of that material will make the book. The review of Sonic Youth's show is exactly as it will appear in the book.

Arriving in Brooklyn a bit after noon, we emerge from the underground onto Bedford Avenue. As I text Robin, Dave calls. Another mass meet-up is materializing nicely.

Lunch at Sea Thai after an appetite-increasing walk around the general crammed area. It has a positive rep, and is certainly the most aesthetically pleasing Thai restaurant I've frequented, very modern decor and a Buddha-blessed pool in the middle of the dining area. The tofu Pad Thai was quite good, but the shining star of the meal was the iced coffee.

Upon figuring out we could just walk into East River Park, our day took a turn for the awesome. The stage was off to the left as we entered, traversing over gravel and dirt, marveling in the skyline view across the water. The MetLife building is cool as always, but lacks Snoopy. Why they don't have a Snoopy on top of the tower, or a smiling Snoopy face on one side, or even Snoopy climbing the building ala King Kong, I could not tell you.

The seaplanes were in effect. Imagine, a seaplane flying by King Kong Snoopy on the side of the MetLife building! Brilliance.

Not long after our entrance into the park, Sonic Youth began soundchecking. Getting to witness soundcheck is a rare, beautiful thing, like a mini-golf course with no kids around. As it turned out, this particular soundcheck was like a mini-golf course where kids are explicitly banned.

To our shared astonishment, we were able to walk up a small hill and stand by a waist-high barricade and enjoy the views. (Well, for awhile, anyway.)

Preamble is useless, and believe me I tried. I love words and the smiths who love them, but sweet crabcrackin' Christo Beans, they played: BRAVE MEN RUN, COTTON CROWN, WHAT WE KNOW, GHOST BITCH, INHUMAN, there, the caps lock was on and broken in our shared sonic soul. We were banished to the bottom of the hill for the last three songs, but oh well what's that mean, the band doesn't have to be distracted by scraggly outta-towners?

Our buddy Aaron stopped by, full beard in effect. He got to hear "Ghost Bitch" and "Inhuman" with us. All in agreement, they've been rehearsing the former song for awhile, despite its 25-year absence from setlists. Way tight, even when Lee Ranaldo nearly bonked himself whilst playing the cymbals. I won't lie, when we saw dude bust the acoustic out, then conjure up the unholy scree and...and..."Slowly pour/The liquid down" I got chills and clutched Trick's left shoulder like a string of pearls. I knew I brought my Bad Moon Rising tote for a reason.

Thurston sang "Inhuman" real delicate-like, which only makes sense; the reason that song is so sparsely played by SY is that it destroys T's throat, namely when he screams the title for minutes on end like he's being tortured.

I made Facebook updates intended to enlighten, not enrage or enervate. I knew even as I tapped the screen on my iPhone fervently, though, that I may end up doing all three.

Robin and his girl found us thanks to my Snoopy tee. Not the first time I've been pinpointed in such a way, and I hope it's not the last.

We depart for the line outside and Dave finds me. His purchase of No Setlist is captured on camera. Robin and Aaron express interest, and I'm that much closer to selling out my second pressing. (Final pressing also, I'm thinking.)

Dave and I hit it off quick and fierce, talking about the words of music and the music of words. Everyone in our makeshift crew got along, and why wouldn't we? We're here to enjoy Sonic Youth. I like turkey, you think it tastes dry and flavorless, your favorite album isn't my favorite album, boo hoo. DID I TELL YOU THEY SOUNDCHECKED "BRAVE MEN RUN"?

I didn't want to put that info out there pre-gig, but as it turned out, Robin's girl was talking to a group of young fans and one of their number--a fresh-faced dude with brown hair cut close to his skull, and face contorted in permanent half-smile--told her he wanted to hear "Brave Men Run."

"Jenn, Jenn! Come here, tell him what you heard at soundcheck."

"Uh, 'Cotton Crown,' 'Brave Men Run,'"--

"What?! What?! That's my favorite song!" He proffered a hand and of course I accepted.

They let us in and amazingly we got near the front, side Lee. George found us, sandwich in hand! Cool dude, always. Derek located us as well. Unfortunately our girl Annie wouldn't be getting off work till 6:30, but she'd find us. She always does.

----------------------------------------------------------------------



The time creeps closer.

"Tonight! Is the night!"

Yeah, Robin! I join in.

"That the skies will open! And spray forth the divine hand with poison finger!"

I had no way of knowing, even with soundcheck, how permanent an effect this show would have on me and Patrick. I will tell you this, though; as soon as we saw Kim Gordon come out in a tight orange dress just polite enough to be served, we knew it was on.

"Brave Men Run"--Reactions immediate and delayed ricocheted 'round, but all I could think was They're doing it, it's happening, oh my shit hell, seven days seven nights and twenty-five years! Twenty-five years since they've done this one live, that's longer than some of the people here have been maintaining heartbeats!

The intro plucks on the recorded version are focused crystalline blue; live, those same notes felt like a bristly soul-kiss.

I couldn't help but glance over at the dude from the line, my brother in hands. To have your favorite song kick off a concert, and it's one they haven't dusted off in a quarter-century (hello, 2011!)--wowo. Meanwhile, I get my favorite SY song revisted acoustically on a crappy TV show.

"Death Valley '69"--I turned slightly towards Trick. "Bad Moon medley," I remarked approvingly. Lust-crazed rams doing ritual battle have not thing one on Sonic Youth and their raging peace.

"Cotton Crown"--Welcome back! If you don't like those C's, feel free to borrow some K's.

New York fans are forever going to deny SY the unconditional love they deserve. They're so cool, I mean shit, do you not listen to lyrics, the city from which they hail is "forever kitty." I dunno what that means, but it probably means something. Maybe New York City is pussy in that good wet way, pussy in that bad cowering way, or pussy in that it slinks meows and coughs up hairballs and makes me sneeze uncontrollably.

Angel reveries sound eerily similar to cascading white waterfalls underneath a sky black and thick as pitch. So I don't care about the cool kids and their self-central snark.

"Kill Yr Idols"--I mean they're just taking this song to heart, right? Riiiight. Shocker in Kittytown y'all, hide the rice. Not played since 2003 (and sparingly at that), "Kill Yr Idols" has been a mainstay on the J and P Wishlist. From the very first seconds (a possessed music box that requires constant winding up) I was gobsmacked. That feeling would hang around.

Jesus but I musta been a sight. There's been mad hubbub this week about the Kanye West/Jay-Z collabo album, and I don't know if anyone else has ever seen Jay-Z's Fade To Black documentary, but amid all the self-aggrandizing and Fugazi-sampling is a delightful session with feted producer Timbaland. Timbo, who looks like he's hiding sides of beef underneath his tee shirt, is knocking back some mystery liquid from a gallon jug and playing Jay some of his most recent, as-yet unclaimed beats. Several come and go, and then the instrumental that would be turned into "Dirt Off Your Shoulders" blasts over the speakers. Always sounded like the music Rosie would play as she cleaned up after the Jetsons to me, but Jay was immediately taken. As he listens, his head nods and his face contorts as if he's so impressed by the music that he's just disgusted.

That was me all night, pretty much. "I haven't heard that live until tonight," I told Robin after the final evisceration of Baal. Oh, I had no idea.

"Eric's Trip"--After not hearing Lee's signature tune from SY's signature LP for a li'l while, it was cool as a walrus in a bowler hat to flip once again with the boy Eric.

Lee is the coolest poet. His eyes seemed to be transfixed on what I can only imagine was a gorgeous East River behind us. Who knows the sparks that set off in his mind, coupled with the words that escaped his mouth.

Craning my neck to peep Lee also brought into sharp (I'm gonna need) relief how high up the stage was.

"Sacred Trickster"--I thought this set would have like four or five Eternal tracks, so the placement of "Sacred Trickster" this deep in the setlist was a bit of a surprise. Guess what else was a surprise? Everything.

Lee still has the "Theresa's Sound World" sign taped to his amp, bust it out. My body is ready.

Setlists for non-album-tour gigs are always good value. The choicest cuts of the previous wreck-hard are chosen so's to keep SY from playing a "greatest hits" set (well, except for Prospect Park last year) and "Sacred Trickster" is an terse, tense excuse for Kim G. to chuck the guit, to jump, kick and pump, free to be, to poise upon the precipice of the stage and Hey the rope's gone. I'm just now noticing that?

Watching Sonic Youth in LA, 2002, I heard a guy from the crowd proclaim his desire to bear Kim Gordon's child. I've never thought that was weird.

"Calming the Snake"--Hey, no new crap! Play "Kill Yr Idols"! Oh wait, you did. Proceed!

Reason 312 to stand on Lee's side: you get to not only see but hear his pre-verse riff of impending unpleasantness. Reason 124 Kim is the Goddess of Music: Just when I thought her prolonged shrieking on "DV 69" couldn't be topped, she unleashes a monster wail here.

I was nice and lubricated by this point, no alterants (other than the one I paid forty bucks for) to credit or blame. Thurston was too, it seemed, but I'll wager no amount on his sobriety.

"I have to ask Lee a chord question."

"I'm asking Mark the same question!"

I turned around and said to Dave, "Yeah, 'cause he's been playing those old songs so long now."

Thurston explained that the band were delving "super deep" for this show--'course, if you were hip to the Twitter tease, you knew that. You just didn't know how far into the water they were willing to dive in order to find treasure.

"Starfield Road"--Of course, they coulda been like, "Leave the treasure to Link, we got riptides to create. Strongest at the surface, y'know."

Caught in a rip current, the body's natural response is to swim against it, towards the safety of the shore. That didn't apply tonight. 'Cause Sonic Youth busting out "Starfield Road" for the first time since the infamous gear theft of '99 is not a natural occurrence. It's not a natural song. You know the scene it makes? Not a fucking nature one, that's for certain.*

When Sgt. Steven Shelley brought the beat in for questioning--boom boom tish-tish boom boom tish-tish--the other prisoners went bafunkers and applied sleeper holds on each other in their shared ecstasy. And for "other prisoners" you should of course read, "me and Patrick." Our simultaneous capture of the Sacred Specter was blessedly immortalized via Dave's camera.

"Yeeeah!"

"Noooo! Shiiiiiit!"

Yeah. No shit.

That's what happens when you leave your spaceship unattended, ostensibly peaceable Martian visitors!

*Someone in the audience did yell out for "Making the Nature Scene," prompting a smile and mouthed "No" from Lee. I've seen him react that way to a shouted song request once before, 2002 in Baltimore, when our friend-we-hadn't-met-yet Tony made his standard plea for "Genetic." You know what that means, then...RIP "Nature Scene."

"I Love Her All the Time"--Under the influence of a haze so profoundly relaxing as to be damn-near post-coital, I was still able to survey a scene almost too scandalous to stand: Lee, screwdriver jammed between fretboard and strings (now that's some high action, badumpish hi-o) and Thurston, drumstick placed similarly on his instrument, and another drumstick clutched firmly in his right paw.

I was still capable of being in disbelief, even after "Starfield Road." I whipped around to Trick. "Nice intro," he said. I was jarred a bit, but when I paid attention, I could hear the cow calls of "Marilyn Moore" over the speakers as the band prepared to unearth another gleaming gem. He did not, however, seem to register what was about to happen. The same guy who's seen The Year Punk Broke 1,991 times, who has probably gleaned more pure inspiration from SY's live footage on said doc than anyone else who's ever viewed it, he was not getting it. I dunno if he was still stunned, I mean likely he was. (His initials are PTS, after all.) But when I told him what this unsuspecting gaggle was about to get smashed with, he reached into my ever-prescient Bad Moon tote bag and provided yet another update for my Facebook page (I would have done this myself, but my hands were shaking and iPhones ain't cheap). "Starfield" auto-corrected to "Starbucks," and dude didn't even notice.

The air was turning purple, purple as that Vikings cap shoulda been, and I was sober as a chastened lover.

Innocent hands here, a frantic mouth there. Not real life, not fantasy, so...

"Ghost Bitch"--Lee brandishing the acoustic means a Dylan cover is afoot, or, "Ghost Bitch." The flaw-free soundcheck turn was replicated for a crowd that may or may not have realized the gravity of the situation (25 years since they last played it live!) Happy Jumpy Dude up front, are you even that old? Why do you love Bad Moon Rising so much that every note of every song that comprises its formidable, unbroken whole propels you upward, inspiring to hurl your ululations into the sweaty air? I wanna know your story, 'cause I'm pretty sure I'll hear a great chunk of my story in there too. Don't bother with your phone number, lets exchange epiphanies.

"Tom Violence"--How come every time T-bone dedicates a song to someone that isn't his daughter, it's always "Tom Violence"? Do these lucky folks actually request the most frequently-played song in SY live history or is it the fail-safe go-to if someone is indecisive or carefree about what song the band plays after shouting 'em out? My friend Chris got "PCH" by request in Portland a couple years ago (and oh my God, if SY did this setlist in Portland, forget it, the Roseland would be roofless at this point in the show) and my buddy Mike straight-up approached Thurston outside the Metro in Chicago pre-show some nine years ago, gave him a whistle and said, "Play this during 'Silver Rocket,'" and that is precisely how shit went down that night.

"Later on a large rattlesnake head's gonna come over the river and introduce us to 2012. It's gonna spray LSD with angel dust. And we will all become women."

Which is all mighty fine and jim dandy to the emotional rescue, but what about those of us who already are women? Do we get, like, two more tits and an extra vag? Did the drug-spewing Sistrurus even consider that his actions would have consequences?

"What We Know"--Dude, I know nothing right about now. What are y'all doin'? What is life without your love? How do I live? Which way is up up up and away in my beautiful my beautiful seaplane? Do you know where you're going to? Did you remember to make a copy of the cake recipe? Don't you know that loving you is easy 'cause yer beautiful?

"Drunken Butterfly"--"This is our last song."

"The fuck it is!"

Wow, I can hear my thoughts now!

I suspected the return of this 'un. It's fun, it's simple, it's Kim as a hypnotic orange whirl. (Ever been a pervert with some sherbert?) Whoever I have to kill to get legs like hers, they died for a worthwhile cause.

Ah, encores! A time for the band members to refresh and rehydrate. A time for crowds to show if they really love the band or are just in it to come-n-go. A multi-tiered necessary evil, is the encore.

Dave noticed a pair of women--twins?--in matching flamenco dresses, holding ukeleles skyward. People like that could only be up near the front. Billyburgers to the back, texting about how the show sucks because they haven't played "Schizophrenia" and do I need to pick up any PBR or are we good?

No, you most assuredly are not good. You are drinking PBR. Stop that.

Kim shouting out Wild Flag and adding "Woooo!" was like whoa. As soon as she dedicated the next song to them, Patrick knew what it was.

"Flower"--I knew right then I was not in any way exaggerating how incredible this concert was on some "me I'm super fangirl, super duper fangirl" pitter patter. Confirmation received: 8/12/11 was a show for the ages, from the ageless, for all ages, under a sage spirits aegis. Blessed be those.

"Flower" isn't precisely a wordy song--but I yelled all those words at the tip-top of my weak lungs anyway. Probably looked goofier than I sounded, but I'm through being cool. Sweaty, loud, aching from the non-stop crank 'n raunch, that compulsion to move when you hear music that has direction.

"Support the power of women

Use the power of man

Support the flower of women

Use the word

FUCK

The word is love"

Everyone should have their poetry read aloud by Kim Gordon. Unwavering, hearty, a woman of the world.

I'm very curious as to whether or not Thurston realized the bottle had water in it when he decided it would make a nice substitute for a plectrum. It was a simultaneously hilarious/unsettling/liberating sight, the world's oldest teenager making wet plastic love to his guitar.

"He could've been electrocuted," Patrick said at the song's conclusion, almost as an afterthought.

"Yeah, I don't think he cared."

"Sugar Kane"--Biggest pop of the night? Prob'ly. I envied the band their watery view especially here. "SK" has always put me in mind of a beach dreamsicle scene, waves of an indeterminate blue shade pounding against millstone-hued sand, underneath a sky gone white and orange, whilst the goers below lay out on Chudley Cannons towels and sip Sunkist Icees. No matter the number of times I've heard this one, and no matter how many sighs I exhale at the concession to the casual fan (and believe me, the reality that Sonic Youth can and do have such a thing turns my noodle map all soggy), the pole shift always uncoils my guts. Top dropped, pedal pressed, sensation as the only moral rule. Just another portal to pass through.

I love being at or near the front. That's where the excited people are. The ones who shimmy-shout. The unabashed fans, the proud lovers. My people. Hold on.

Bam, second encore!

"Psychic Hearts"--I distinctly remember thinking, "I am nonplussed as shit right now." I wish I had said that to Patrick, but all I could do was look over like, dude. He just let loose with a soulfelt "wooooow" and rummaged in my bag.

"What the hell, summers spell."

You said it, big fella.

17 going on 18 I was when I picked up Thurston's new solo album, and the title track left pockmarks chest-wide. Inarguably some of the man's most magnificent lyrics, stark imagery and lush empathy for the devils inside all the angels. In that crowd, at that moment, in consideration of all that had come before, I felt sincerely that that song was for us. Sonic Youth do not play songs from other members solo records. Ever. Not the whole goddamn band, as part and parcel of a predetermined setlist. They were having a blast first to last, playing with the possibilities, weighing the probabilities on a futzy scale, and we got to experience the glorious outcome. Got no time for sad songs, baby.

At Patrick's behest, I tore myself away from Thurston's stoic form and paid greater attention to Lee. The band had been doing a straightforward rendition for most of the songs duration, but as the tune wound down, Lee was letting off some unobtrusive lickage that nevertheless stood bravely alongside Thurston's counsel in the ameliorative effort. Now that I think on it, it woulda been too fuckin' cool if Lee had put in some backing vox for those couple lines where T double-tracked himself on the recorded version. His tender tenor would sound superb on a line like "Love 'em all and say it loud."

And then they were gone. Again. Lee picked up a paper airplane that had made its way to the stage earlier (one of several, in fact) and launched it up towards the lights. Too much height, as it turned out.

"Dude, did we just hear Sonic Youth play 'Psychic Hearts'?"

"Wow."

"This...this isn't happening."

"Yes it is. It really really is."

"Well they can't just end it like that."

"Inhuman"--They can end it like that, though.

Third encore? Sure. I've forgotten what planet this is happening on, I mean maybe my spirit has passed into the dimension where Sonic Youth concerts are always like this. Cool. So what's next, a track off Lee's imminent solo record? How 'bout "Sunday" with Mary Timony on third guitar? How 'bout a goddamn interpolation of "Song For a Future Generation" by the B-52s with Rebecca Cole on synth? Hi my name is Jenn and I'm a Libra and the only way this show could get any better is if I'd worn my Snoopy backpack like I'd originally planned and if they played "Starpower" with Kim on vocals and yeah yeah, I know it never happened that way, Thurston always sang it live, and they haven't played that song live in 25 years, but as of this concert right here right now, throw everything you expect from SY live out the fuckin' window. It hit someone in the head? Are they still conscious? No? Job well done, then.

I looked over at Robin's girl and...this is her first Sonic Youth show.

Sky is the limit and my flame is no longer extinguishable by likelihood and probability. 58 shows and SY just shocked me. The gall, the audacity, the nerve of you, Sonic Youth.

When Thurston strapped that bass on, it was the beginning of ten minutes of funk. Not like James Jamerson funk. I mean funk like stairwell piss. Funk like the assuredly hairy backs of CT's own Charter Oak Motorcycle Club, who Thurston felt compelled to tell us about, in his mildly Hedbergian manner. Funk like the ukeleles the flamenco twins tossed to Lee (although only one made it to the stage) and funk like he played that motherfucker too (despite bemoaning its lack of a jack). Funk like bodies in the pit that inevitably broke out.

"My body is a pastime, my mind is a simple joy."

It wasn't dancing, it was like shaking yourself dry after being sprayed clean with a riot-ready hose. It was jarring a loose cog back into its proper place through decidedly improper technique. 

The drop out after verse one was almost stunning. A plummet exposing the nagual, but the window of opportunity was limited before they and we returned to the bass line of the blue screen of death.

"Inhuman" was created to be destroyed. Sonic Youth accomplish this in a myriad of fun ways. Lee hit a cymbal-like instrument that I could not identify, shit-eatin' grin on his face the whole time. Later he would take drumsticks and de-string two of his guitars the old-fashioned way, twirling twirling twirling towards freedom. Kim hits the deck and conjures up some scree. Thurston loses the stringed accoutrements, grasps the mic, and proceeds to

"IINNNNNNNNNNNNHUUUUUUUUUUUUUUMAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNN."

A relentless cry of identity, slathered in equal parts greed, guilt, pleasure and pain.

"IIIIIINNNNNNNNHUUUUUUUUMAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNNN."

Thurston maniacally ripped the cords free from the tape that kept them immobile on the stage. All the while I'm thinking what I did to deserve seeing "Inhuman" twice in concert in my life and also, his exhortations sound a bit similar to those of Captain Caveman.

It could not have happened. It did. It was the kind of show I wish all my Sonic Lifers could've attended, all clustered together, feeding off the novelty and energy, reveling in the reveille.

"Anything is possible through the power of love."