Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Hey Joni, put it all behind you

July 22, 2007

Kerze (1983) by Gerhard Richter
Life goes on back in LA and Friday saw Sonic Youth roll into the Greek Amphitheater for a sold-out show on their Daydream Nation tour. As previously mentioned here Sonic Youth are performing the entire 1988 album throughout the US this year. It was a beautiful night that, for me, was filled with some surprises. I’ve always loved Daydream Nation. When I was in college, I thought it was a post-modern masterpiece. Manic, driven, and discordant, the music seemed to be coming together and falling apart simultaneously. It is a recording that is both frayed around the edges and urgently going everywhere at once. Having seen live performances of the band at the time (and several times before and since), I was greatly looking forward to this show and while it wasn't what I expected, it was still a marvelous thing.

Sonic Youth have never rested on their laurels and while they have inspired the launch of a hundred anemic facsimiles, they have moved on and the show reflected the reality – they are not the band or the people they were nearly 20 years ago and their performance should not simply be an attempt to recapture the past. Instead of wallowing in a post-punk nostalgia for what never was, the band delivered a show that brought out many melancholic aspects of the music that, while certainly always there, were not as prominent before. The songs seemed as much about memory and regret as anything else and, while there were still the driven and forceful moments throughout, the work floated in the air with a sense of looking back critically. Not unlike the Gerhard Richter painting Kerze (1983) that graces the cover of the album, the multiple layers in these expertly crafted songs revealed themselves and the searing call to arms became a remembrance of things past.

The show ended with several songs of new material from the most recent disc Rather Ripped which, while formidable in their own right, seemed rather like Dick Dale surf-guitar numbers in the wake of the prior 70 minutes. But the die had already been cast. While the crowd was still filled with numerous young men screaming out Thurston Moore’s name like some infatuated pre-teen girl, it was an older crowd overall and I couldn’t help but think like many other most likely did, what exactly have we put behind us and what haven’t we?

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