at Avery Fisher Hall,

Lincoln Center - November 21, 1997

photo courtesy of Jay's Sonic Youth page .

by Deklin Green

Sonic Youth is a band with whom I have a love/hate relationship. They are a band who, within the same song can display both art school pretentiousness as well as brilliance. They have released truly great rock and roll records (all their releases) but for some reason always feel the need to constantly reinvent themselves in some avant garde way, (Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore sharing stages and billing with free form jazz artists and Kim Gordon flirtations with Japanese noise bands).

When I first heard that Sonic Youth were playing Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in a performance called "Guitar Futurism," I cringed. I mean who did this band think they were? I imagined Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, and Steve Shelley thinking that this would be their coming out party, a sort of debutante ball for twentieth century composers; their chance to join the ranks of the Steven Reichs and Philip Glasses of the world. I envisioned the audience at this show would be a bunch of geeky college boys straight out of their philosophy and cultural studies classes staring at the lanky poster child for the college rock intelligentsia, the geek gone cool - Thurston Moore. I saw hordes of "womyn" paint barely dry on their homemade dresses. I assumed that Sonic Youth wouldn't be playing the songs on their records which make them stand out as one of the greatest rock bands of the last 15 years, but instead droning out some noise in the name of anti-rock. The absurdity of it all made this an event I did not want to miss.

I arrived at Avery Fisher Hall in time to see the second half of Tom Verlaine and Jimmy Rip's instrumental set. Within seconds my fears about this show were coming true. What I saw on stage were two older men sitting on stools, guitars plugged into a bunch of digital delay and echo pedals, noodling out atmospheric "sounds." The audience was polite, some even enthusiastic, toward what the guys behind me called "postmodern pop." Whenever there was a break in the sound we all clapped. I was disgusted-Tom Verlaine, a man who was part of Television, one of the most original, exciting, and interesting bands to ever play rock and roll (rock and roll only because we don't know where else to place them), playing this. Listen to Marquee Moon and try to figure out where Television came up with their sound, who were they influenced by, try to figure out how Verlaine and Richard Lloyd (the other guitarist in Television) came up with their guitar parts-each completely different from the other yet fitting together and complementing each other perfectly. Tom Verlaine: from the brilliance of Television to sounding like an eighteen year old kid who has just discovered digital delay pedals, marijuana, and Dark Side of the Moon. I went to lobby to sip some red wine and discuss film.

At Avery Fisher Hall I was able to hear, for the first time, the Sonic Youth that the band had always heard in their own heads; the Sonic Youth that Thurston Moore wishes everyone could hear, as opposed to when they play a some shitty concert hall and parts turn into mere noise.

During intermission I read the program for "Guitar Futurism." Anybody who wants a good laugh should get a copy of this program and read what a mister Byron Coley has to say about Sonic Youth. I have never read a more pretentious, hyperbolic, string of platitudes in my life. Sentences such as "Sonic Youth's four members combined hepster knowledge culled from four separate corners of the bohemian globe." ...and,"While most bands have back catalogs that wither into nothingness, like rabbit turds in a forgotten corner of the nursery, Sonic Youth's previous works combine with their current ones to expose new aspects of a Euclidean whole."

What in the world is this guy talking about? I took a deep breath and prepared myself for one of the most absurd and disappointing performances I had ever seen. The lights went down, the band took the stage, and then the music started. What followed was pure..brilliance.

I realized that I was completely wrong about how I had envisioned what this show at Lincoln Center would be like. The band can't be blamed for their fans, the guy who writes their blurb in the program, or the opening band's inadequacies. The only thing that Sonic Youth were wholly responsible for was their own performance and they lived up to this responsibility fully. They were everything that makes my three favorite Sonic Youth albums (Daydream Nation, Sister, and Evol) not just great experimental rock records, but great rock and roll records. It was pop music turned inside out, 4/4 drum beats played in reverse; guitar playing that realized it is not about how many notes you can play in a certain amount of time, but that it's about playing the right notes at the right times; that it is about tone and not about volume. They played new songs I have never heard before (some were off the recent SY1 and SY2 E.P.'s) and each song was interesting and was performed well. The band keep my attention the entire time that they were on the stage. I wish I could explain just how intense it was to hear a rock band play in a classical music auditorium. Every note could be heard. For the first time in my life I could hear the tones of the toms, I could hear how Steve Shelley had his drums tuned...the drums were not only the back beat of the group, but they became an instrument of the band carrying on their own melody line just as the guitars were. At Avery Fisher Hall I was able to hear, for the first time, the Sonic Youth that the band had always heard in their own heads; the Sonic Youth that Thurston Moore wishes everyone could hear, as opposed to when they play a some shitty concert hall and parts turn into mere noise.

Sure there was the Allen Ginsberg dedication, as well as a pretty poor scat singing attempt by Kim Gordon, but when the band shut up and played they were one of the best bands I have ever seen, and one of the best bands every single person in that concert hall had ever seen. People were starting to get up out of their seats and were walking up the aisles to the front of the stage. I thought that maybe the concert would end with everyone out of their seats, Lincoln Center security fighting to get everything under control - a perfect end to this Sonic Youth show. By the last two songs about a quarter of the people were up and in front of the stage. I was thinking that it was going to happen, that the entire audience was going to get up and rush the stage, bridge the gap between rock and classical, and bring some danger back into rock and roll.

The last note died out, and everyone started to file out of Avery fisher Hall. There was no stage rush, no riot, there would be no headlines in tomorrow's news about the "crazed youth at the Sonic Youth show." On my way out of Lincoln Center I thought again about how wrong my expectations of this show had been, I thought about how if anyone hadn't delivered at this show it wasn't Sonic Youth, it was their fans.

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