Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: sonic youth

ACL Fest 2010

Sonic Youth on the Honda Stage at ACL 2010

Another year, another Austin City Limits Music Festival, but this year’s ACL Fest was probably my favorite. A large part of that was the weather, which was October gorgeous. Warm, but mild days with cool nights. Fall is one of the reasons I live here. The ragweed was a problem for me, but that was far better than the year of dust, the year of extreme heat, or the year of mud. For once, the festival didn’t require any real feats of endurance and that made for a great weekend.

We arrived in the afternoon on Friday and saw a little bit each of Beach House and Spoon, but the next two bands were, for me anyway, the highlight of the festival: Sonic Youth and Phish.

SY's Kim Gordon & Thurston Moore

Sonic Youth is my favorite band. I’ve seen them a number of times and Daydream Nation is my favorite album. Needless to say, I was thrilled to see them on such a glorious day. Their set was largely material from their recent album The Eternal, which hadn’t really grabbed me until I heard them play from it on Friday. I kept thinking, my god, this is good stuff, so I’ll certainly be giving that record a more careful listen. The highlight of the set was the two closing numbers, both from Daydream Nation: “The Sprawl” and “’Cross the Breeze,” the latter being my favorite SY tune.

Sonic Youth is one of those bands whose music requires careful attention, especially when they tear away from what most folks call music and venture into those dissonant soundscapes where chaos sounds so savagely beautiful and fearsome. These are moments when time can stop and the music truly transports me. Then the noise begins to coalesce and it seems as if I’m waking up inside a song, the one we left, but different now. Changed the way maps look different after you’ve explored the ground they represent. Listening to Sonic Youth is to remember that anything is possible and worth risking when it comes to art. It is freedom and energy and life played loud.

Sonic Youth

As if Sonic Youth wasn’t enough, just as their set ended Phish was getting started over on the other side of the park. We hustled over and were treated to the kind of show where it’s impossible not to dance. We used to see Phish every time they came through Austin back in the ‘90s, but it’s been at least ten years since they’ve been here, and I’d almost forgotten just how much fun a Phish show is. The played some of their classics (“Chalkdust Torture” and “You Enjoy Myself”) , “Backwards Down the Number Line” from Joy and some crowd-pleasing covers of Talking Heads and Velvet Underground tunes as well as a wonderfully funky “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” also known as the 2001 theme. After Phish, we called it a day.

At LCD Sound System

Saturday we went down late as my allergies were really doing a number on me. The highlights for us were Silversun Pickups, a band we caught back in 2008. I really liked them then and they were even better this time out, especially since I’ve gotten to know their music over the past few years. After Silversun Pickups, we heard a little bit of The XX and then LCD Sound System came on and played an electrifying set as night settled over the park. We went home shortly after that, having decided that this was already the best ACL Fest ever (and I’ve been to all but the first one).

At Silversun Pickups

We went down late again on Sunday, which was for our group the least interesting day. The only must-see for us was The Flaming Lips. This was the first time I’ve seen them play, and it was a fun show, the band reveling in its weirdness, perhaps at the expense of the music, but it was still fun. Singer Wayne Coyne came out and rolled over the audience inside a giant beach ball during the intro. He sang one song while sitting on the shoulders of a guy in a bear suit. There were sing-a-longs and audience participation. The highlight, though, was the closer, a wonderful rendition of their song “Do You Realize” which opened the song up, expanding it and letting it fly, making it all the more moving and celebratory. As the song says, “happiness makes you cry,” and I’d say it could have possibly moved me to tears it was so good except the ragweed had already done that.

Sunset on The Flaming Lips

After the Lips finished, we turned our chairs to the Honda Stage to watch The National. They didn’t play the one song of theirs that I know (“Lemonworld”) but I enjoyed their set anyway. When they finished, we could hear The Eagles on the big stage across the park. I was torn about this. Our friends had an early flight back to St Louis, R and I had to work in the morning, and my allergies were shutting down my nose again. But it’s the Eagles. So we listened to a few tunes. “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Hotel California,” “Witchy Woman.” They sounded great and as a festival closer, they were a good choice, though I still say, Austin City Limits needs to get ZZ Top in here one year to close this thing down.

This was my eighth ACL Fest and it was probably my favorite. The weather was the best it has ever been, and Sonic Youth, Phish, Silversun Pickups and LCD Sound System were all phenomenal. Did I say the weather was amazing? It’s a shame they scheduled it for September next year. Oh, well, I’ll be there. It’s too good a weekend to pass up.

The Eagles from the Far Side of Zilker

Here are some links to other bloggers’ takes on ACL 2010: In Between and Chickster.

Sonic, Not Youth

I see more and more blogs pimping YouTube. Sometimes I find it sad that blogging, the last great bastion of the written word, the fulfillment of Guttenburg’s dream, the cornerstone of modern freedom, the… okay, okay, so it’s getting laid on a little thick, but does the blogosphere really have to be the new teevee?

Then, because I’m curious, I began to wonder how one puts a YouTube clip into one’s blog. Ever one to be part of the problem, I figured I’d give it a go. Naturally, it’s easy.

So, enjoy a fascinating cover of Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia,” a tribute of sorts to Philip K Dick.

Sonic Youth at Stubb’s

File this under I meant to blog about it a week ago…

A week ago Friday, we caught Sonic Youth at Stubb’s. Great show, as always, made even better by the fact that they weren’t touring in support of any album. Their most recent release was the brilliant (perfect, wonderful) rerelease of Daydream Nation (my favorite album).

I love seeing a great band with a long history free to play whatever they want rather than focusing on the new material. This time around, they played a few tracks from their most recent ’06’s Rather Ripped, “The World Looks Red” from Confusion is Sex and spent the rest of their show playing songs from Daydream Nation. To put it in perspective for me, this would be like going to see Pink Floyd and having them play Dark Side of the Moon. Sheer bliss.

For years, I’ve kept track of the Daydream songs I’ve heard them play (I haven’t missed an SY show in Austin since ’92). I’ve heard “Teenage Riot,” “Candle,” and “Eric’s Trip,” but Friday at Stubbs’s we were treated to all of those along with “The Sprawl” and my favorite of theirs “‘Cross the Breeze.” They even closed their set with all three songs form “The Trilogy.” Brilliant.

They sounded great, enormous like jet planes flying too close to the ground, their feedback noise jams drawing the thinnest line between order and chaos across the night.

I even bought a shirt.

The Meat Puppets opened. I’ve never seen them. but I’ve heard them. After the show, I wodered why I don’t have more Meat Puppets on my iPod.

Sonic Youth at Stubb’s

There’s nothing like the sound of controlled chaos, screaming guitars that somehow manage to sound mellow, and a laid-back approach to making intense music out of sounds and noise rather than traditional chords and notes coupled with a musical style that exudes freedom and energy and life. It’s perfect really. It’s why I never miss a Sonic Youth show.

Friday was a very strange day for us. I won’t elaborate, but you can take my word for it. That’s why seeing Sonic Youth play Stubb’s was such a great thing. I’ve loved their music and most of their albums ever since I discovered them back in the eighties. I’ve been to many SY shows from back in the days when you went to mosh to these later years where you go to listen to the music of a wickedly creative and innovative band that just keeps getting better if somewhat mellower.

Friday’s set was mostly comprised material from their latest album, Rather Ripped. I like the album, though not quite as much as the previous three. Still, they sounded great and the songs, quieter than usual, still seemed to please the crowd. Of course, when a band has been around as long as Sonic Youth, everyone likes to hear which of their old classics will be broken out and transformed.

In a way, hearing the older tunes is the best part of a Sonic Youth set. For me, this is because they constantly reinvent their old songs so that rather than playing them the way they sounded back in the eighties or nineties, they sound fresh, as if they could fit comfortably on the newest album. This musical exploration and experimentation is at the heart of what Sonic Youth is about.

They played “Catholic Block” and “Schizophrenia” from Sister, “Eric’s Trip” from Daydream Nation (my favorite album ever), and dug way back to Confusion is Sex for “Shaking Hell.” Great stuff that managed to be both a nod to SY’s punk/hardcore roots as well as being thoroughly of the present. This timeless yet futuristicly experimental quality to their shows reminds me of more than anything else of Phish or Grateful Dead shows.

Not exactly punk, really, but I’ll keep on truckin’ along and seeing their shows as long as they keep doing them. It’s been since 1981 and they don’t seem to be growing bored or more importantly boring.

(Always) Rediscovering Daydream Nation

Ever since I first read about Sonic Youth’s album Sister back in 1987, I’ve loved this band despite never having heard them. Granted, I never could find Sister at any of the record stores (either of them) in Newport, RI, but I knew they were my favorite band.

I finally heard them a year later when their follow-up, Daydream Nation, arrived. I had moved to Austin by then and was able to locate what would become my favorite album ever. Period.

I’ve tried to explain to many people for many years why I love this noisy, spacey album so much, why it’s my desert island disc. But then love of a particular work of art is a lot like loving a person: you just can’t always explain it.

I suppose when I heard it, it was so at odds with everything else that was floating around out there, so unexpected, and so stimulating that I couldn’t stop listening to it. Literally. I think I listened to “Teenage Riot” five times before letting the tape (yes, a tape) advance to “Silver Rocket,” which was the track that sealed the deal. I still love the way the song descends into that insane pit of boiling feedback and white noise to finally be rescued by a drum roll that rises out of nowhere, growing louder and louder, organizing the chaos back into music and then, suddenly, the band is back, tight as ever, from wherever they had gone. Amazing.

I never tire of listening to the intro and outro to “‘Cross the Breeze” and Kim Gordon’s lyric:

I took a look into the hate,
It made me feel very up to date

Or Lee in “Hey Joni”:

She’s a beautiful metal jukebox,
A sailboat explosion,
The snap of electric whipcrack

So cool. So hip. So unlike anything I’d ever heard before. This is one of the few, if not the only, bands from my high school years that I still follow, and Daydream Nation is why. In 1989, it seemed like everything that was worth knowing about popular music had been distilled, destroyed, and rebuilt in this album that still sounds like a punk rock Dark Side of the Moon.

Sparking this post, I ran across two exciting treats in store (or should I say in stores soon):

  • Continuum will be publishing a 33 1/3 Series book about Daydream Nation
  • Billboard has this (discovered by way of Kofi’s hat) which mentions that the band is looking into doing an expanded release of Daydream Nation as they did with Goo and Dirty. It also mentions several other releases to look forward to in the meantime.

I finally found Sister in 1994 when it was re-released on CD by Geffen. It was as good as I knew it would be and inspired an interest (obsession and grad school project) in Philip K. Dick’s writing, but alas, that is a post for another day.

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