November 23, 2009

That Was The Show That Was: Sonic Youth, The Feelies | Wilbur

[PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Piantigini | We welcome back to these digital pages longtime friend and occasional contributor Jay Kumar, who you may recall hosts the podcast Completely Conspicuous. -- Ed.]

The last time I saw Sonic Youth was way back in October 1995, when the band was already considered the elder statespeople of alt rock/punk/grunge/whatever. I was supposed to see them play at Avalon (now doing business as House of Blues) on Lansdowne Street in Boston, but the surprise success of their single “The Diamond Sea” caused the promoter to move the show to the larger Orpheum Theatre. In my late 20s at the time, I was struck by how many really young kids (i.e., pre-teens) were there, drawn by the radio edit of the aforementioned 19-minute song.

The audience at Sunday night’s SY near-sellout show with The Feelies at the Wilbur Theater had a decidedly different look: a mix of aging hipsters, college kids and the occasional pre-teen. And while the band is decidedly older -— all five members are 47 or older -— they rock as hard as they ever have.

Touring behind The Eternal, the band’s first release on Matador, SY played a 90-minute set that included pretty much everything from that album. The new material was strong, with “Anti-Orgasm” a standout with its cascading waves of noise. In addition, the band sprinkled in some classics from the 1980s: “Tom Violence” and “Shadow of a Doubt” from Evol, “Stereo Sanctity” from Sister, “Cross the Breeze” and “The Sprawl” from Daydream Nation and the scorching show closer, “Death Valley ’69” from Bad Moon Rising. Interestingly, the band didn’t play any material off its nine major-label albums. For those folks disappointed that they didn’t get to hear “Kool Thing” or “100%,” there’s always YouTube.

Guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo were in peak form, alternately bashing out violent riffs and coaxing squalls of feedback from their guitars. Moore especially was animated, jumping around and looking like he was going to jump into the crowd at times while playing at the edge of the stage. Pavement’s Mark Ibold has taken over bass duties, which freed up Kim Gordon to play rhythm guitar or just focus on vocals, although she still played bass on some songs. Drummer Steve Shelley was impressive, whether he was hammering away on the harder stuff or creating a psychedelic mood on songs like “Shadow of a Doubt.” Perhaps in a nod to the sheer volume of songs the band has written, a roadie brought out lyric sheets that were taped to the stage for Moore, Ranaldo and Gordon for the older material.

Openers The Feelies drew some of the older audience members, similar to its reunion show at the Roxy in October 2008. Although much of the younger crowd at the Wilbur were unfamiliar with the band, which only has four albums and hasn’t released one since 1991, the older fans were shouting encouragement throughout the 50-minute set.

Singer-guitarist Glenn Mercer said few words between songs but bounced frenetically around the stage as he played his similarly winding solos. Thanks to a muddy sound mix, however, Mercer’s already subdued vocals were barely audible. Rhythm guitarist Bill Million (who one audience member rightly noted bears a striking resemblance to talk show host Jerry Springer) kept the jangly chords going and provided occasional backing vocals along with bassist Brenda Sauter. Stanley Demeski was a powerful presence on drums while percussionist Dave Weckerman intently played a variety of instruments including drums, tambourine, cowbell and blocks.

Highlights included “The Time is Right,” a new song the band played last October in Boston, “Too Far Gone” and the one-two punch of “Raised Eyebrows” leading into the sped-up strumfest of “Crazy Rhythms.” Hopefully, the band will release some new material soon because they’ve obviously still got the goods.

The Feelies have been playing sporadic shows in conjunction with the recent reissues of their albums Crazy Rhythms and The Good Earth. No further dates have been announced. Sonic Youth, however, were slated to play another show at the Wilbur with openers the Meat Puppets and Cold Cave.

One note about the Wilbur: What’s up with the byzantine series of checkpoints, wristbands and holding pens that the venue concertgoers undergo? There had to be 87 people staffing this event, and it just resulted in absurdly long lines for the restrooms and overall confusion. And on top of all that, they collected everyone’s ticket stubs. Weak. -- Jay Kumar

Sonic Youth: Internerds | MySpace | YouTube | Flickr
The Feelies: Internerds | MySpace | YouTube | Flickr

Previous Sonic Youth Coverage:
Today's Hotness: Sonic Youth, Jai-Alai Savant, Thrill Jockey
Industry Watchdog: Sonic Youth, UMGI, Gawker Media
YouTube Rodeo: Sonic Youth's "Incinerate"
Review: Sonic Youth | Rather Ripped

Previous Feelies Coverage:
Review: Velvets | Big Star | Feelies | Pixies
That Was The Show That Was: The Feelies At The Roxy
YouTube Rodeo: Half-Way To The Feelies And "Higher Ground"

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