The void between Christmas and New Year is a notoriously sparse time for gigs, with most groups taking the week off to recuperate. However 2010 is different in that the mighty Sonic Youth, standard bearers for the indie rock nation, have chosen to make a whistle stop at Manchester Academy on the evening before New Years Eve. Now sixteen studio albums into their career, Thurston, Lee, Kim, Steve and Mark it’s exciting to see if these New Yorkers still have the verve and passion, after all the success and critical acclaim, to seek the unknown within the basic structure of a rock band.
The curtain raisers for this evening are a reformed Pop Group, last seen performing reckless experiments in Manchester, by me anyway, at Rafters on Oxford Rd when supporting Pere Ubu. They appear not to have changed much since then and still hold a unique vision of the world that’s shrouded in a lurid concoction of free jazz, funk and dub delivered with a ferocious urgency. Still, hidden underneath the dour guitar writhings are enough catchy melodies to give everything a sense of purpose. They scream through a collection of songs that are both clamorous and discordant, before bringing their set to a close with crowd favourite ‘We Are Time’. Strangely the band leave the stage only to return almost immediately to play an encore that was neither asked for nor called for and you have to wonder why a group this unconventional should chose to bow to such a tired custom. Still it’s great to have them back and I look forward to seeing them play again sometime in 2011.
By the time Sonic Youth amble onto the stage to pierce the evening with the finely detailed ‘No Way’The Eternal’, from their latest |LP, the Academy is packed solid with sweaty bodies ranging in age from about 45 to 15. In fact, it’s this mostly tracks from fabulous LP that the band gradually worm their way through tonight, though unsurprisingly it’s the older classics such as ‘Tom Violence’ and ‘Catholic Block’ that elicit the warmest receptions. What is wonderful is that most of the songs they play tonight aren’t just faithful reproductions, they’re more guidelines or initial directions the band use to explore new territory. In fact most of the time the four guitars spend the majority of the time snarling and tearing at the corners of the songs in an attempt to rip them open so they can take the audience to some new outpost at the edges of music. And the crowd are willing to go wherever this band chose to take them until everyone finally achieves weightlessness and starts soaring.
The show shudders to a conclusion with the chiming guitar swells of ‘White Cross’ and an utterly phosphorescent feedback-drenched ‘Death Valley '69’ which leaves everybody knowing that they’ve witnessed something real, important, and most of all relevant.
Where so much of modern music is little more than a ceaseless pursuit of celebrity using a sorry mix of plastic and profanity, it refreshing to see a group with integrity at its heart, and I’m hoping that the new decade brings us more.
Calming The Snake
Leaky Lifeboat (for Gregory Corso)
What We Know
Massage The History
Cross The Breeze
Death Valley '69
Review/photos by Phil King