LastNight: Sonic Youth Proves Ageless at the Berkeley Community Theater

Categories: Music

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“…After Gordon jumped into the crowd to dance out the end of "Eliminator Jr.," Moore greeted her with a huge, aw-shucks smile, as if after all these years she could still surprise him. …”

By Dan Strachota

Sonic Youth
July 19, 2007
The Berkeley Community Theater
Better Than:
All the Smashing Pumpkins shows put together.
Download: Sonic Youth doing "Total Trash" in Barcelona, 2007; live footage of "Silver Rocket"; video of "Do You Believe in Rapture?"

You know how going home to see your parents makes you feel 16 again, no matter how old you are? Suddenly, you feel all your hard-earned independence slipping away, as they exert their control all over again. Eventually, you end up screaming insanely about how they can't tell you what to do anymore when they ask some simple question, like "Are you done with that salt shaker?"

Which is why I felt conflicted when my dad called me up and asked if I wanted not only to go see Sonic Youth play their 1988 opus, Daydream Nation, but hang out with them backstage in Berkeley. See, my dad teaches at an alternative school in Western Massachusetts. This year, he just happens to be molding the mind of one Coco, daughter to Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. My father, who hasn't combed his hair since the Reagan administration, who keeps his TV tucked away in the closet for those rare occasions when he rents a VHS tape, and who lives in a cabin in town so tiny it's barely on the map, is something of a hero to the coolest parents since John and Yoko. It's all rather bizarre.

I admit I hadn't paid much attention to Sonic Youth's last couple discs. But boy did I play the hell out of Daydream Nation and Goo when they came out, crushing majorly on the chaotic pop pleasures of tracks like "Hey Joni" and "Kissability." Naturally, I wondered how this reunion (band gets together with old album) would work, so I took my dad up on his offer.

Boy, I'm glad I did. Otherwise I wouldn't have had such cool '90s flashbacks. I'd forgotten just how metallic bands like Sonic Youth, Nirvana, and Jane's Addiction were at one time, carving out a new territory where heavy metal met indie rock. Sure, SY could toss out a gem like "Total Trash," with a riff that would serve Pavement and million other congenial college rock bands well, but they could also head-bang with the best of them. "Erik's Trip" and "Cross the Breeze" were aural thrashfests, dump truck pouring noise down on my head.

Gordon said later that when the band went back to the album to listen to their parts, they thought they were sloppy and too sprawling, but obviously they had reworked them considerably. The pop tunes I gravitated towards in the past sounded razor sharp, but it was the more expansive numbers that really shone, tracks like "Candle" and "Rain King" that bristled with new energy. Or maybe it was how the musicians didn't give some rote performance, like the Pixies reunion. They seemed genuinely interested in the songs and each other. After Gordon jumped into the crowd to dance out the end of "Eliminator Jr.," Moore greeted her with a huge, aw-shucks smile, as if after all these years she could still surprise him.

The same goes for the band's encore, which sadly didn't consist of the complete Sticky Fingers, as Thurston joked, but several numbers from SY's recent Rather Ripped LP. Still, the way the performers played vibrant, concise tunes like "Incinerate" and "Jams Run Free," I could see the quartet carrying on for another decade or two. Sonic Youth? More like the Fountain of Youth. Maybe it's something in that Western Mass water.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
Um, you know, that stuff about my dad.
Random Detail: Pavement's Mark Ibold, who was in Free Kitten with Gordon, played bass on the encore set.
By the way: The idea for playing Daydream Nation was conceived by All Tomorrow's Parties founder, for his Don't Look Back series.

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