Saint Luke’s, 12/06
In a 1995 interview about the Sonic Youth album Washing Machine, Thurston Moore stated: “We all have different aesthetics as to how songs should work. I generally push for a lot of abandon while some people in the group are more interested in truncating things. If I was the leader as much as people say I am, every song would be 20 minutes long.”
One of the most striking features of Moore’s solo work since the band’s split in 2011 – precipitated by the end of his and Kim Gordon’s marriage – is the coming to the fore of this very refusal to cut things short, a major factor in distancing his two solo records from the Sonic Youth oeuvre and ensuring a lack of shouted requests for Sonic Youth songs at his gigs. His second solo album since the breakup, Rock n Roll Consciousness, contains only 5 songs but is 43 minutes in length (an average of just over 8 and a half minutes per track), and that’s reflected in the sparse setlist aired in the beautiful Saint Luke’s venue tonight.
The act’s name may have changed from Band to Group, but the lineup of Moore, Deb Googe of My Bloody Valentine and Primal Scream, James Sedwards and Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley remains the same. Taking the stage with nothing more than an unbothered “Hey” from Thurston, they quietly tune up before barrelling into ‘Cease Fire’, a song that begins softly before exploding into grungy life. The whole band appear nonchalant between songs but jump into motion when the groove kicks in, especially on the bass side as Deb stands in an attack stance, properly hitting the strings and providing the sonic punch in the ribs Thurston Moore fans expect. Most of the songs are structured similarly: when the main body has run its course the band drift into a 5-10 minute noise intermission, shifting from noisy ambience into a wall of screaming industrial feedback, then a short lull before launching back into the song for a final time. The lack of barrier in front of the low stage gives the show a cosy feel at the front, Thurston turning over a large pad of paper presumably of lyrics and leaning right into the crowd giving a close-up view of one of the 20th century’s great guitarists at work. During an intermission someone shouts out “Vote Labour!” to which he replies “Did you just say ‘more legroom’? … that’s my motto”.
The relatively low number of songs in the set makes the gig seem almost short-changingly quick when the band first leave the stage, but they’re quickly back on to make up for that with an epic-length version of ‘Ono Soul’ from Thurston’s first solo album, reaching almost unbearable volume as the feedback section reaches its climax. As he exits the stage with a characteristic “Peace and love!”, it seems apt to meditate on how strange it is to see one of the giants of the 90s alt-rock explosion working his magic in such a small venue when some of his then-contemporaries are still playing arena gigs. But for Thurston Moore it is, and will continue to be into his old age, all about the people and the noise.
[Ciaran McQueen – @_delareine]