Sonic Youth. These days the name holds an awkward sense of irony when you consider that the band’s members are now in their 50s. But thankfully this milestone hasn’t affected the quality of their end product; think of their output over the past decade (Murray Street, Sonic Nurse, Rather Ripped and this year’s excellent The Eternal) and you realise this is a group who still bubble with creativity. Then couple this effervescent inventiveness with an unyielding zeal to explore uncharted territories and it’s immediately obvious why Sonic Youth have remained at the forefront of alternative music since their inception in 1981. And while many of their contemporaries – and more than a few of their protÃ©gÃ©s – have crashed and burned or simply faded into obscurity down through the years, the New York quintet have remained on an even keel to produce an impressive 16 albums to date.
Amazingly, tonight is the group’s first headline appearance in Dublin for 11 long years. It’s also their last live date of 2009, so State is hoping they kick out the jams and whip out a few surprises. The five figures looking out over the audience may look visibly older than they did on their last visit to the nation’s capital but it’s definitely Sonic Youth playing before our eyes; Thurston Moore lurching languidly around the stage and Steve Shelley keeping time behind his drum-kit while Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo and Mark Ibold look visibly lost in the music as they open their set with ‘No Way’.
As they work their way through the likes of ‘Sacred Trickster’, ‘Antenna’, ‘Calming the Snake’ and ‘Walkin’ Blue’ it’s apparent that new material will make up the bulk of tonight’s set. But that’s not to say the event is completely devoid of classics. ‘Stereo Sanctity’ is thrashed out early on and ‘Tom Violence’ creeps in between ‘Anti-Orgasm’ and ‘Malibu Gas Station’ but there’s no room for old favourites like ‘Kool Thing’, ‘Sugar Kane’ or ‘Teen Age Riot’. In short, the much hoped for surprises don’t arrive. However, as they return to the stage for their encore, Sonic Youth do finally crack open some vintage numbers in the form of ‘The Sprawl’ and ‘Shadow of A Doubt’ before bringing the evening to an end with a scintillating version of ‘Death Valley 69’.
To be completely honest, tonight’s performance is a somewhat challenging experience that will result in split opinions. On the one hand, there’s no denying that Sonic Youth have delivered a stunning live show, built on nothing but their own raw, uncompromising sense of endeavour. But on the other hand some will feel aggrieved by the fact that the band have jettisoned the majority, and more recognisable, of tunes from their back catalogue in favour of more recent works. However, take into consideration the group’s penchant for nonconformity and disjointedness and you begin to get the feeling that perhaps this is exactly what they had in mind.
Photos by Loreana Rushe.