When Bob Dylan performs “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” in particular the “I’m going back to New York City, I do believe I’ve had enough” line, anywhere within the five boroughs, the audience responds with a loud roar of recognizable approval. This is true of most bands that mention Manhattan, Brooklyn, even New Jersey in their songs, most bands with the exception of Sonic Youth.
After Thurston Moore came to the line in “Cotton Crown,” from Sister, the one that goes, “New York City is forever kitty,” no one attempted to shout over the next line, “I’m wasted in time and you’re never ready.” The band has become such a New York intuition over the past three decades (the band played their first show in July 1981, Just Above Midtown/Downtown Gallery) that to clap every time they mention Manhattan seems pointless. And Friday night, when they played Williamsburg Waterfront, they dug into their 30-year-old catalogue for a rarity-filled set list, one that subtly celebrated their NY history.
Earlier in the week, Sonic Youth’s Twitter feed read, “Teaching Mark [Ibold] some songs we haven't played in a long time for this friday's show #rehearsin'forya,” and during the show, Thurston half-joked, “It's been a while since we've played some of these. Mark was always in the audience, so he knows [the chords]." (The last time Mark played on the Waterfront stage was last summer, playing bass for Pavement and not singing “Carrot Rope,” sadly.)
“I Love Her All the Time” and “Ghost Bitch” from the art-rock explosive Bad Moon Rising (recorded in 1985 at Before Christ Studios, mere minutes away from the Waterfront), the title track from Thurston Moore’s 1995 solo album Psychic Hearts, and an extended, throat-ripping version of “Inhuman,” from Confusion Is Sex, were performed comfortably with expected, yet still welcomed tracks from Daydream Nation (“Eric’s Trip”) and The Eternal (“What We Know”).
Kurt Vile and the Violators (one of my favorite “and the” band name) began the show with a 30 minute-set of hazy Dinosaur Jr.-like songs, mostly drawing from this year’s excellent Smoke Ring for My Halo. Then came Wild Flag, a.k.a. The Sleater-Helium, who are set to release their self-titled debut album for Merge on September 13. The band takes everything good they provided for their former bands—Carrie Brownstein’s theatrical strumming; Janet Weiss’ whole-body pounding on the drums; Mary Timony’s seductive, dangerous howl; Rebecca Cole’s bouncy playing—and puts them all together into a Nuggets-friendly package, with a few swirls of the guitar here and there. The band held nothing back, kicking the air and jumping on the drunk kit (well, that was mostly just Carrie), and Sonic Youth, possibly inspired, later did the same, with Kim Gordon jumping in circles, Thurston smashing a bottle of water on his guitar, and Lee Ranaldo playing a wooden ukulele someone handed him from the crowd. It was the most enthusiastic I’ve ever seen the band, with three encores, and it serves well for the next 30 years. Who’s to say an 83-year-old Thurston Moore won’t be able to play “Tom Violence.”
Photos by Nadia Chaudhury