The Constellation Room
Sonic Youth has always had a cult following. Thus, it was appropriate that folks wanting to see Thurston Moore (the founder of the dormant group) perform at The Observatory had to endure $20 parking, walk a half mile, and shove through thousands of black-clad, sweaty, and drunk Latinos — attending The Observatory's La Tocada Super Estrella Fest — in order to cram into the venue's intimate Constellation Room, where they waited an hour and a half past the showtime for the music to begin.
Though one may think that this is not an ideal set of circumstances to experience one of the 100 greatest guitarists (according to both Rolling Stone and Spin), Moore's fans understand that when they attend one of his shows, they will have a transcendental experience which will eclipse any annoyances that may threaten to ruin their days. Moreover, the most profound moments of his art tend to occur when he and his bandmates abandon the realm of mundane existence, forgoing conventional ideas about tonality and diving into profound oceans of distortion and feedback. These excursions are difficult to qualify as anything but noise; however, emotional and spiritual communication often occur beyond the limits of human language, and it is in this domain that Moore has thrived for nearly 35 years.
Beyond the experimental aspects of his music, Moore's ethos as a writer and as a performer is very down-to-earth, and while Sonic Youth exists in a state of suspended animation (pending the resolution of personal conflicts with fellow founding member / ex-wife Kim Gordon), his solo work is similar enough to keep Sonic Youth fans happy. The songs that Moore performed with his band — including drummer Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth), bassist Debbie Googe (My Bloody Valentine), and guitarist James Sedwards (Nought) — in support of his new album, The Best Day, were essentially based on Moore's trademark, minimalist, driving grooves. His stripped-down rock 'n roll rhythms, as well as some of the solo guitar work, was doubled by Sedwards, providing a dense foundation upon which progressive variations, solos, and atonal accompaniments were lain and to which extended periods of artful noiseplay were tethered.[
Moore's banter with the audience kept the show grounded in a small community feeling as did the opening band. The bohemian, punk, garage band openers, Sebadoh, had a few great jams, and though their brand of psychedelic art rock was not as theatrical or experimental as that of Moore's band, guitarist / bassist Lou Barlow (formerly of Dinosaur Jr.) revealed that the relationship between Sebadoh and Moore goes way back to the 80's, when they used to open for Sonic Youth. Further adding to the homey feeling of the show was the presence of a painter. During each of the one hour musical acts, musician / artist Jennaé Bennett stood off-stage right, at her easel, improvising a painting to the sounds of the music.
Though the atmosphere was as unpretentious as old-school punk rock shows, this environment was not for everyone. As spiritually elevating as it may be, experimental noise rock simply does not compute to people firmly rooted in banal reality. Even some of the front-stage braggarts in the audience, who spent their time waiting for the show to begin by comparing how many vintage alternative rock shows they had recently seen, grimaced and planted their fingers in their ears during the extended feedback improvisations. Then again, amongst a legendary and humble artist's cult fanbase, even posers are welcome.