Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sonic Youth / Awesome Color - Live 2009.07.18 Uptown Theater, Kansas City, Missouri

I know, it's been forever since I've written, and considering my upcoming plans to spend a year living in Germany, I have to admit I can't guarantee consistent posting in the near future. Time will tell. In the meantime, I managed to catch one last show in the US.

Artist: Sonic Youth
Venue: Uptown Theater
Location: Kansas City, Missouri
Date: 18 July 2009
Opening Act: Awesome Color

01. Tom Violence
02. No Way
03. Sacred Trickster
04. Calming the Snake
05. Silver Rocket
06. Walkin Blue
07. Anti-Orgasm
08. Malibu Gas Station
09. Leaky Lifeboat
10. Antenna
11. Poison Arrow
12. Massage the History
13. White Cross

First Encore:
14. The Wonder →
15. Hyperstation

Second Encore:
16. What We Know
17. Pacific Coast Highway

Since I don't have a lot of background information about Sonic Youth and I don't know their entire discography, I can only provide a brief review. I will proceed nonetheless. I should note that the setlist is borrowed from the Kansas City Star, whose review I generally agreed with.

Openers Awesome Color failed to impress. They played a half-hour of fast, punky grooves. Their singer/guitarist was clearly the dominant member; he was the only dynamic musician. In every single song, the drummer and bassist had merely one riff to play and that's all they did. For all their energy and headbanging, all they did was the same thing for four minutes at a time. The guitarist was creative and had a variety of riffs, but it was entirely up to him to make things interesting. The weight was a bit much for one musician to handle and even with some good tricks and riffs, the songs got old fast. His vocals were undecipherable and lost in the mix.

Sonic Youth, however, were in fine form. They mostly focused on their newest album, The Eternal, but they threw in just a few older songs, which of course garnered strong appreciation from the crowd. The band frequently just shoegazed, but they had energy and they did engage in at least some dialog with the audience (unlike infamous shoegazers My Bloody Valentine). Thurston Moore was the main man, talking the most, singing the most, and playing the lead guitar parts highest in the mix, but the other two original members, Lee Ranaldo and Kim Gordon, each had a few turns at the mic.

Most songs did not have clearly separable instrumentation; the combination of four musicians' guitars and basses created a wide sonic landscape held by drummer Steve Shelley's rhythm and overlaid by the relatively sparse vocals. Thurston's guitars usually were the dominant part, either the main riff of a song or part of a noisemaking machine. Lee's parts were almost pure noise, but they were important to the total sound of the songs. Kim alternated between rhythm guitar, second bass, and dancing, and Mark Ibold held down the main bass parts. The bass was especially hard to pick out in the mix, but I could tell that Mark's parts were usually lower in pitch, and when Kim also was on bass, she'd played higher parts, more similar to rhythm guitar parts (kind of like Peter Hook used to do in Joy Division/New Order).

Many songs featured extensive noise jams, but they usually were dynamic and interesting enough to keep my attention. Somehow the band found a perfect match of convoluted noise with an underbelly of melody and rhythm. The pieces found a way to fit together – the most abstract jams had little foundation, but most were grounded in some sort of riff that was low in the mix yet present enough to tie things up and keep the movement and flow of the songs.

The mix wasn't entirely perfect, especially as the vocals were hard to distinguish, but the sound was generally good, and the band kept things rolling for over two hours. They didn't offer much familiar territory, and their sonic assault can be intense, but it's well worth it if you've got earplugs.

Awesome Color: D+
Sonic Youth: A-