Sonic Youth doesn’t make music for the masses. And, really, who can
blame them? By remaining true to their art-rock roots without
sticking to one specific sound, New York’s godfathers of
guitar-noise have achieved a position of prominence in rock usually
reserved for bands that sell many times more records.
That stance has led the Youth to pursue truly daring, if
sometimes bizarre tangents, creating music that has polarized
audiences. And even though popular acclaim has eluded the group to
such a degree that it has become a part of the band’s identity and
appeal, Sonic Youth are widely regarded as artists’ artists, the
credibility measuring stick by which alternative and independent
bands are judged.
Thursday night at the Anchorage, a performance space in the base
of the Brooklyn Bridge, the band opened a summer concert series
that includes shows by such art-school acts as DJ Spooky and Praxis
with an hour-long set of instrumentals that seemed to blur into one
another. In a setting geared more toward performance art than rock
theatrics, the group indulged its experimental side with mostly new
material that ran the spectrum from tender to terrifying.
Taking the stage with nary a word or glance shared between
members, Sonic Youth immediately launched into a hypnotic 11-minute
song with a mantra-riff fusion that had the audience swaying like
hippies in a post-alt-rock Daydream Nation. A little later, as the
flat snap of Steve Shelley’s snare harkened back to such Youth
rockers as “Pacific Coast Highway” and “Mote,” guitarists Lee
Ranaldo and Thurston Moore exchanged slight nods before shredding
the song with alternating waves of feedback that seemed to bounce
off the room’s 50-foot, barrel-vaulted ceiling.
For the last song, Moore finally brought out a microphone from
the side of the stage, if only to thank the audience and mumble
through a few indecipherable couplets. Meanwhile, Ranaldo, who
stood grounded to the same spot for most of the evening, dropped to
one knee to better wrench his guitar strings, while bassist Kim
Gordon continued her on-again, off-again pogoing.
Although some might have expected a preview of more
song-oriented material that will appear on the band’s next album,
the show instead demonstrated how well Sonic Youth has mastered the
free-form improvising pioneered by acts like Sun Ra and the MC5.
Much of what they played seemed a firm rededication to the more
visceral musical explorations on “Daydream Nation.”