Monday, July 23, 2007


This past weekend in Berkeley, Sonic Youth performed their classic record Daydream Nation almost twenty years after it was originally released (among other things, this means that Gen-Xers will find it harder to make fun of baby boom nostalgia in the future). For those who aren't into the band, DDN is the record that really brought Sonic Youth into a semi-mainstream spotlight after toiling in the underground for the bulk of the decade, and snagged them a major label deal. The record is a melding of avant guitar noise, epic song structures, and smart pop songwriting. It's also an album packed with high and low cultural referents, including William Gibson, ZZ Top, Joni Mitchell, Denis Johnson and even a Led Zeppelin ZOZO icon parody. Some high falutin' people call this kind of cultural bricolage post modern (not me though, I just call it rock n roll). It's even been included in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. Like it or not, Daydream Nation is now in the canon.

Though Sonic Youth had rebounded in the last few years with a trilogy of tuneful, more accessible records (Murray Street, Sonic Nurse and last year's Rather Ripped), I feared they wouldn't still be able to pull off the youthful intensity of Daydream Nation live, especially after a friend gave me a report of a lackluster show he'd seen recently in Portland. I needn't have worried.

The Berkeley Community Center is located on the campus of Berkeley High, and after a pre-show drink or three we were primed for action (we also missed the opening bands, one of which had the ridiculous moniker Pocahaunted). When Sonic Youth took to the stage with the ringing opening tones of "Teenage Riot", the crowd went nuts. Though there were some sound difficulties during the first two tunes, eventually they locked into a groove, especially on "Cross the Breeze" (woozy video excerpt below).

It's odd hearing a record that you know so well coming to life, and the danger is that the band would be either so faithful to the original sound that all life would be drained of the performance, or that they'd go too far afield (a distinct possibility with SY and their propensity for feedback and guitar noise). They really nailed it though, especially on the album ending Trilogy suite (which features their ZZ Top nod, "Eliminator Jr."). After they finished the Daydream set, Thurston came back on stage to joke that they'd now do Sticky Fingers, with Lee Ranaldo doing the "Mick Jagger chicken dance" (which Lee then half heartedly attempted). They actually did half their latest record Rather Ripped as an encore, with Pavement's Mark Ibold on bass. The intensity of the Daydream material seemed to infuse their newer songs, especially on the salacious "Pink Steam". Kim Gordon even jumped into the crowd for a brief moment after doing some very frenzied go go dancing. A night to remember indeed.