August 15th, 2011 1:00am
New York City Is Forever Kitty
Sonic Youth @ Williamsburg Waterfront 8/12/2011
Brave Men Run (In My Family) / Death Valley 69 / Cotton Crown / Kill Yr Idols / Eric’s Trip / Sacred Trickster / Calming the Snake / Starfield Road / I Love Her All the Time / Ghost Bitch / Tom Violence / What We Know / Drunken Butterfly // Flower / Sugar Kane /// Psychic Hearts //// Inhuman
I have seen Sonic Youth play at least once per year every year since 1995, with the exception of 1999 and 2001. As a result, I have seen the band play pretty much every song in their live repertoire in that time. This show on Friday night was special in that a majority of the selections were either songs I have never seen the band perform, or had not seen them play in many years. It was the first SY gig I’ve ever seen where I truly had no idea what they would do next, and it was a real thrill. I spent a lot of the show beaming with joy as they played songs I had always wished for (“I Love Her All the Time,” “Kill Yr Idols,” “Flower”), never expected (“Psychic Hearts,” “Brave Men Run,” “Ghost Bitch”) or hoped would return (“Starfield Road,” “Cotton Crown”). I’d been exhausted on hearing the same oldies in recent years, and they went above and beyond all expectations in this show. I hope this is a taste of things to come as they celebrate their 30th anniversary – they have one of the largest and most consistently brilliant back catalogs in all of rock music, and should fully embrace that in concert.
If you look over the setlist, you’ll note that the band went very heavy on love songs. (Thurston finished the show by making some parting comment about love, but I can’t recall exactly what it was.) “Cotton Crown,” always and forever their best love song – and quite possibly the best indie rock love song ever penned – was one of the highlights of the show. Unlike most previous live renditions of the song, Thurston and Kim sang it together as a duet as they do on the studio recording. The beat was also faster and vaguely danceable, lending it a sort of Echo and the Bunnymen-ish quality. When the instrumental break finished and the main melody came back around, I looked over my shoulder at the Manhattan skyline as Thurston sang “New York City is forever kitty / you’re wasted in time and I’m never ready” and smiled. Feel free to carve that line couplet on my gravestone.
The sentiment of “Cotton Crown” is sweet and generous; pure affection mitigated by stoned coolness. “I Love Her All the Time,” though, is basically starry-eyed infatuation rendered as a horror film soundtrack. Which makes perfect sense, you know?
I had long assumed that this mid-90s setlist staple had disappeared forever after the band lost a lot of equipment back in 1999. I suppose not! They approached this one with a bit of trepidation – they joked that only Mark Ibold knew the chords because he was in the audience back then, which is funny because I didn’t realize this song even had proper chords! I would love it if they tried doing more songs along the lines of this one on their next record – atypical structure, groove-based, extremely noisy, all forward momentum without doubling back. The past few Sonic Youth records have been pretty middle-of-the-road; I’d love for them to get back to being this gleefully weird and abrasive.