Sonic Youth

By Bob Bahr

The chaos that is captured on Sonic Youth albums wouldn't seem to translate successfully to live performance. Even if executed well, the haze of guitar feedback and repeated riffs could be boring or even annoying. Reports from the Lollapalooza Tour, which Sonic Youth headlined, were generally bad. So the band's concert on Oct. 27 at the Brewery's Thunderdome was approached by this reviewer with some concern.

Tami & the Amps, Kim Deal's new project, began the evening with some sloppy, uninspired experiments in avant garde rock. The drummer dragged down every tempo, and a tune in which Deal played a snare drum at the front of the stage was a train wreck of conflicting percussion. The tunes were forgettable and hard to like. It was not a very auspicious beginning.

Then, in a minor miracle, the New York godfathers of contemporary alternative rock delivered a nearly perfect show, venturing to extremes and retreating into familiar tunes in just the right proportions.

Thurston Moore wielded a drumstick duringsomeguitarsolos, jammingthe stickin between the strings to create wholly unnatural and violent sounds, sounds that fit into the texture and context of tunes like a mangled body in a surreal painting.

Steve Shelley proved to be an equal partner in the group's success; his funky, groove-oriented drumming served as a bridge from Sonic Youth's esoteric art-rock tendencies to the more accessible, subversive-pop side of the band.

The performance art duties of the group were carried largely by guitarist/vocalist Lee Ranaldo, who kidney-punched his way through two spoken-word pieces and a few solos of almost meditative guitar noise. Bassist Kim Gordon, who on the surface seems like the "frontman" of the group, proved to be more of an ensemble player, stepping out front for bold vocals on tunes like "Washing Machine" and "Swimsuit Issue." Her bass playing was unobtrusive but fit so closely with Ranaldo and Moore's guitar musings that any other approach to the bass was unimaginable.

The long, often dissonant exercise of "The Diamond Sea" ended the set in noble fashion, and a short, two-song encore dredged up some old SY classics. Both new and old fans were likely pleased by Sonic Youth's judicious song sampling from the group's 15-year history.