Radical Adults Rock Like Children
Sonic Youth Live Review
Palms Casino, Las Vegas
Saturday, October 2, 2010
By Ben Allen
The first weekend in October I attended Matador Records’ 21st birthday party at the Palms in Las Vegas. The highlight was Sonic Youth, who played only pre-1994 material, including long-time crowd favorites like “Schizophrenia” (Sister) and “greatest hits” from their early career like “Tom Violence” (EVOL).
After their set, drummer Steven Shelley explained why the band focused on the first half of their career.
“Mark (Sonic Youth/ Pavement bass player) Ibold has been really busy with Pavement over the last year, so we weren’t really able to perform the new songs he plays on,” he told me. “We weren’t intentionally trying to play the old stuff; it was out of necessity. It just kind of worked out this way.”
The band’s fans certainly didn’t complain.
Songs like EVOL‘s “Shadow of a Doubt” and “Mote” off 1988’s Daydream Nation didn’t sound the least bit dated or stale, either. In fact, just the opposite. If any of the late 80’s Sonic Youth material were released today by some young band, it would inevitably be hailed as the “future of rock.”
Their songwriting is so forward thinking that it may be 2057 before the general public gets hip to what they were doing in the 80’s and 90s, although, I don’t expect any songs that feature 10 plus minutes of ambient noise (see Washing Machine’s “The Diamond Sea”) to ever reach the top of the charts and have the teeny bopper set dancing and singing along.
The most accessible part of the band’s performance was probably “Bull in the Heather,” a song that features bassist Kim Gordon gleefully singing about betting on horses while jangly guitars prance below.
They finished with “Death Valley ’69,” an epic anthem of chaos and destruction inspired by the Manson murders. Guitarist Thurston Moore lay on his back while band mates Kim Gordon and Lee Renaldo stood above him, smashing the necks of their guitars together until something resembling the sound of a tortured cat screeched out of their amps.
Most inspiring is the fact that the whole band are in their late 40’s or early 50’s and gleefully prance around the stage like children at a playground.
Thirty years into a constantly evolving, influential career, Sonic Youth still put on one of the best live performances you’ll ever witness. There is no other American band as relevant or important as these seminal New York noise makers. So listen up kids, you could learn something from your elders.