Sonic Youth perform “Daydream Nation” at The Roundhouse, Camden

October 3, 2007

This is the second of the All Tomorrow’s Parties “Don’t Look Back” gig series I’d been tempted into. The first was superb – Tortoise performing Millions Now Living Will Never Die, with a few from TNT and It’s All Around You for afters – and of course, this one is superb too.

What else did you expect me to say?

Thurston, Kim, Steve and Lee come on, a silver candle as their backdrop, then burr through “Teenage Riot” as I muscle my way to front, breaking a personal record for the most repetitions of the word “sorry” in one minute. I’m not sorry. Well, I am, but it can’t be helped. I find my friends by fluke; we touch glasses together and settle in to venerate our idols.

Can anybody spot the irony therein?

My first thought is ‘where is the bass?’ – but the bass on the album itself is largely subliminal, a delicate, just tangible pulse, dominated by the glacial, plaintive, twin guitar attack. So I guess the treb-ly sound is justifiable.

On to “Silver Rocket”. I crane my neck this way and that to spot what the two guitarists are doing, trying to see who is responsible for which coruscating riff, which precise piece of magic comes from where. Praying that this is not the last word in guitar style. Sure, there’s the odd lyrical clunker from Thurston Moore, who tried a bit too hard to be cool at points (example: – ‘There’s bum trash in my hall and my place is ripped / I totaled another amp, I’m calling in sick’, delivered in a tone that sounds way too healthy to convince during “Hyperstation’), but musically, all the stars aligned, everything coalesced.

I wonder how Sonic Youth feel, replicating this glorious material, trying to deliver it as if it is new, but in reality, simply covering themselves. As artists, I can hardly imagine they are thrilled to do it, but they have kids to put through college, mortgages to pay, lifestyles to fund and a sold-out Roundhouse is more than happy to chip in £25 a man, on what is only the first of a three-night stand here.

Steve Shelley looks as happy as a pig in shit, gleefully and faithfully pounding out the simplistic, pummelling, military rattling rhythms. Kim Gordon, dwarfed by a huge Firebird bass, focuses and leads the band through a deadly “The Sprawl” and “Cross the Breeze”. Lee Ranaldo then heroically delivers the sterling brace, “Eric’s Trip” and “Hey Joni”. He stands by two excellent sets of lyrics with pride and emerges from this show with maximum credit.

By the time they reach track nine, “Candle”, any pretence at watching and taking mental notes has deserted me. Several beers from the earlier session in the Lock Tavern with Phil, Will and Fran have their inevitable effect and I am nothing but another sweaty male figure within a superannuated moshpit.

It’s those songs that sound so awesome on your stereo at home, writ large – you can see Thurston and Lee at work, generating some of the most intelligently harmonised guitar parts in history. It’s too much. When Thurston delivers ‘Candle’, all my churlishness at his occasional lapses in taste (and who the fuck am I to judge the man?) are utterly, utterly dismissed. His pop instinct is perfectly married to the arthouse style and something melodically infectious and uniquely potent is magicked into being.

“Kissability” is a riot, slightly spoiled by the fact that I am bouncing around like an oversized child, bellowing “kissability”, out of tune with Kim. It’s better if I don’t do that. I can hear it and become conscious of myself and the others around me, the big, dark-clad, male shapes. They are bellowing too. It sounds vulgar.

It sounds better if you close your eyes and listen, just like you do in your room.

The drink, the surreality of the situation, the perfect, faithful rendering. I knew all this already, I think, as I go crazy to the music, always a step ahead, always aware of what is about to happen, even when they noise out. It’s not about what’s happening on stage, it’s about what already lives in my head. I know this.

Our kicks, if these are they, were fashioned 19 years ago. I was a child then and didn’t come to this music until over a decade after the fact, but it instilled fire and belief in me, belief in guitar music as a valid art form, not just a product to be packaged and sold. We, the bedroom thinkers who worship Sonic Youth’s achievement and queue up to give them more money, we know this and we are united.

Ticket and booking fee @ £27.50 + train there and back @ £44.50 + drinks and expenses @ best part of £40. About £110 to hear what I already own on beautiful gatefold double 12” vinyl, followed by an encore consisting of much of Rather Ripped, the latest album. Ex-Pavement bassist Mark Ibold joins the band for this section of the set and they purr through the excellent “Incinerate” and “Reena”, which pretty much are that album but, you can’t help but realise, are truly inferior to the material that preceded them on the night.

I’m exhausted and stupefied with drink by this point and back at the bar for another pint of Kronenbourg, which is the only beer on sale. Then off into the night. We stand outside, smoking cigarettes, but I fail to choke mine down. Camden buzzes, of course. Then we get the tube. I don’t talk on the tube. I look around at scores of people buffeted by the noise and shown up in the surgical, harsh light and for the first time, think I’d never like to live in London. I’m scared of feeling so small, scared of spending hours a day on these tubes, even though part of me finds it’s all so romantic.

I look at the texts I sent around to my friends in the aftermath – ‘Fucking Genius’, ‘…best gig ever’, ‘I reek of mosh’. Back at a friends’ house the next morning, I awake feeling nauseous. I go to the toilet and vomit a little, discretely, into the bowl, leaving no trace.

-Ollie Wright

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: