Monday, September 03, 2007

sonic youth at the london roundhouse

On Saturday night myself, Siobhán, David, Ant and Andrew headed up to London to watch Sonic Youth playing their third and final night of 'Don't Look Back', where they are performing their frankly astonishing 'Daydream Nation' album beginning to end.

Camden's Roundhouse is, as I discovered for The Good, The Bad and The Queen's debut live show at the Electric Proms last year, a super venue for an event performance. And the arrival of SY to play a lovingly nostalgic but typically inventive set of old songs is certainly event, considering the band, now in the late 4os and mid 50s, are not generally much given to looking over their own shoulder.

But 'Daydream Nation' is an album worthy of reconsideration, and SY, for all that they were initially resistant to doing this, look like they are relishing the chance to revisit such awesome material. Their fans, too, feel much the same - this was a night of thinning hair and broad, broad grins.

You can't really start a set with a better song than 'Teenage Riot', meanwhile. The first three songs, in fact, go by in a dizzy, ecstatic blur - the opener is all buzzy guitars, that incredible riff sounding richer with age. 'Silver Rocket', meanwhile, reduces the front fifteen rows at this rather staid venue to a frenzied mosh-pit. 'The Sprawl', with Kim's charismatic rasp and shimmering guitars, is even better.

For these songs, Sonic Youth showcase a stunningly organic method of revisiting these wonderful memories - within minutes they begin clashing their guitars, indulging in bursts of white noise, breaking down the songs until they are unrecognisable, drifting along freely with only the band's spectacular but disrespectful musicianship to guide them. Then, suddenly, as if from nowhere, the simple, awesome riffs at the centre of the originals reappear and the songs return amplified, energised, even more welcome than they were before. This delicate sleight of hand, combined with their almost telepathic intuition, makes for truly awesome pop music.

Having been pushed back from the front and disconnected from my friends, I suddenly go into a bit of a mid-set lull, uncertain if it is the band or myself who have turned off. Keen for a bit of space, I move too far back and find that I've untethered myself somehow from the experience. But only a song or too later I find Siobhán, who has survived longer than I down the front, and we retreat around the edge to a better viewing point.

From now the gig just gets better, reaching the unbeatable at regular intervals. A few words about the band members themselves - they delight me beyond my expectation. Kim Gordon is 54 and the coolest woman, bar none, in rock. She looks amazing, to speak plainly, slim and elegant in a cool dress, rocking out with her bass one minute and windmilling and shimmying the next. Her voice, a brittle tool, sounds incredible. And she's perfectly complimented by Thurston Moore, the eternal teenager, who is still slim and too tall, still happy whirling his guitar round his head and leaping to and fro. Still hidden behind that head of hair.

As for Steve Shelley, his drumming retains every iota of the power and precision it has for the last 24 years. Lee Renaldo, the only member of the band who seems to have aged at all, plays guitar with the dazzling inventiveness and confidence of someone who's just about the best guitarist in the world, which - give or take J Masic - he probably is. Surprisingly his songs stand up best tonight, perhaps because they play better to the strengths of the 2007 SY.

After an incediary 'Eliminator Jr' the band return joined by Pavement's effortlessly supercool bassist Mark Ibold, who prowls around the stage like a grinning iguana, his hair tucked girlishly behind his ears. Songs from 'Rather Ripped' follow before the band are joined by Chris Corsano, who accompanies them on an inspirational, feedback shredded 'Expressway To Yr Skull', which leaves the room breathless.

Still achingly brilliant, still having fun, still making people have fun - I end the night feeling pretty fucking honoured to have seen Sonic Youth play. And you can't ask for much more than that.

1 comment:

Ali P said...

I can't believe you were at Camden Roundhouse...I can practically see it from our roof terrace.

I live about 2 minutes walk from there.

Next time, get in touch. tsk tsk.