A friend of mine once said that Sonic Youth - now almost in their fifties - are like a well-tuned classic car.
A friend of mine once said that Sonic Youth - now almost in their fifties - are like a well-tuned classic car. And it's certainly true that amid their noise, and the instrumental work of contemporaries whom they have inspired - Mogwai, Godspeed You Black Emperor, and Explosions In The Sky, for example - Sonic Youth retain their own inimitable character, and are consistently invigorating and renewing the searing metallic rock that motors through their own created soundscapes.
At Brixton, this machine went through all the gears, from pop grunge classics from the highly influential album of 1989, Daydream Nation, to white-hot drone symphonies. But true to tradition, they didn't check the mirrors too much, sticking to playing the material from their current album, Sonic Nurse, which itself signals a seasoned return to the more pop-y form of their mid-career.
A low-key entrance with warm fuzzy chords and short whistles of feedback blanketed the crowd for the windswept and icy vocals of Kim Gordon, in her glittering dress, demurely singing "I Love You Golden Blue", a wistful love elegy. This was a steady exhale before a rendition of "Stones" won the slightly bewildered crowd with its bold rock riff chorus.
The charged "Pattern Recognition" was then lucidly performed, Kim's spoken vocals having mellowed from the screams of earlier albums, now more fitting with her smouldering and understated style.
It was amid the extended moaning guitars of this song's denouement that SY launched into rock performance art. Lee Ranaldo dived into the crowd, guitar first, while Thurston took rock parody and, no doubt, some real guitar adulation to the extreme, inverting his guitar and rubbing it against things, making love to it for a while on top of a speaker stack, dangling it from its lead, then having to reel it back in from the crowd for the 1989 hit "Teenage Riot".
Kim's song for Mariah Carey ('like Miss Monroe, your mind don't know, just what your body's doin') culminated in a kind of screaming voodoo exorcism. Their Warholesque fascination with celebrities was iced later with a new song dedicated to Jordan.
Thurston then playfully announced that they would like to drop a cherry bomb on the White House, by way of introduction to "Paper Cup Exit", a vertiginous poem to war delirium, which was followed by "Dude Ranch Nurse", in which the lyrics seem to imagine seducing George Bush and putting him on sedatives.
Beyond the early days of art-rock posturing, it seems that now, Sonic Youth really don't care - the cool fits - and their credibility rests more firmly upon the innovation of the music itself, which had all but a few blunted edges.
Living up to their reputation, their challenge to the audience was to resist nostalgia. Amazingly, more than half the crowd withstood a final 10 minutes of experimental feedback sounds, before Sonic Youth capitulated to rapturous applause.Reuse content