Thursday, June 24, 2004

OK, so there's probably no excuse: I've been slack... but I've been busy, too, and sometimes there just ain't enough hours in the day to be able to place oneself in front of a computer and write about some inane, obscure nonsense for the benefit of roughly a dozen people. You know, there are other priorities. But not right now!

I promised a SONIC YOUTH review a little while back, and since it was nearly two weeks since I saw them at the Forum, and about three weeks since I purchased their latest CD, Sonic Nurse, it's time for the hanging judge.

Sonic Nurse is possibly the worst album the band has released. It's not "awful" per se, just shockingly dull. Same tempo, same guitar sounds, same riffs, this isn't just Sonic Youth on auto-pilot: it sounds like they've left the plane entirely and hired a Sonic Youth 101 cover band to take the wheel. Friends of mine feel very differently to me on this matter. I say it not out of spite, but disappointment. Both 1999's NYC Ghosts and Flowers and 2002's Murray St. are excellent Sonic Youth albums. Not groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, but totally solid discs with strong material. On the other hand, I couldn't hum a song from Sonic Nurse if my life depended on it. I can't remember any of the songs. I played it a dozen times in a row upon purchase and, bored by the whole experience, have not even looked at it since. Yes, I'm reviewing a new release I haven't listened to in over 2 weeks. It's that exciting. Sonic Nurse is not even interesting enough to waste one's energy writing about.

I wish I could say differently about their live show, but the story is more of the same. The Forum is an excellent venue. Beautiful architecture, a decent sound system, excellent stage and plenty of room to sit or stand. The last time I saw a show there was last year with the Dirty Three (a band I hadn't previously seen since 1996) and prior to that it was in 1982 when I saw E.T.. There's some useless history for you.

Openers, Bucketrider (missed Pink Stainless Tail), the local jazz/noise/rock ubernaut, rocked the house and a little more. Tight as a nun's bun and twice as attractive, they cut out the meandering nonsense that sometimes bogs them down and nailed it with some hyperspeed jazz screech that seemed to even win over the abundance of semi-squares in attendance. "Punk-jazz" is a dirty word no more. Best act of the night, seriously.

Up next was J. Mascis, someone whose "career" I haven't paid the slightest ounce of interest in for roughly 14 years, excluding the "Three Stooges" (that is, Stooges covers) gig he did w/ Mike Watt at the Cherry Bar in 2001 (one of the greatest shows I've ever seen, and one I primarily saw for the Watt factor, anyway). Now, I'd be lying if I said I was paying that much attention to the guy, but from what I heard in between gossiping with the kind of old hacks one tends to run into at such "events", he sounded pretty A-OK. Solo with merely a guitar, a mic and a stool to sit on, he did a few old Dinosaur tracks (I recognised "Repulsion" from their debut) and what I can only assume was a stack of solo material. Seemingly jumping from song to song at random and interspersing it with occasional bouts of extreme guitar distortion of the Neil Young/Eddie Hazel variety, J. was a whole lot better than expected, which, come to think of it, given my expectations, says absolutely nothing, so I'll say this instead: J. Mascis was "good".

These factors are what dragged Sonic Youth down:

1) No stage personality whatsoever. No "hello"'s, no "ho ya going?"'s, not even a "Melbourne, you rock!". We were treated to a brief, smug anti-Bush rant from Thurston and that's it. You know, you can't be on fire every night, and I know that sometimes you go on stage in a foul mood for the stupidest of reasons and act like a petulant turd to let everyone else know it, but that's me and all the two-bit nobody bands I've played in over the years. This is Sonic Youth. People pay a lot of money ($60) to be "entertained" and they acted like they couldn't give the vaguest fuck. The snooty NYC attitude doesn't cut it anymore.

2) Nearly every song played was from Sonic Nurse. This is expected but unfortunate, considering how fucking boring that album is.

3) Too many Kim Gordon songs. Kim's a cool chick, but she couldn't sing her way out of a soggy paper bag, and her voice just gets worse every year. Several vocal moments were nothing less than excruciating.

4) Jim O'Rourke. He's a talented guy, but for the life of me I still can't figure out why he's in the band.

5) This is my final and most important point: Sonic Youth's rampant musical "professionalism". Not a dud note was hit, not a beat was missed. In fact so note-perfect were the band that I seriously should have just stayed at home and tortured myself with my Sonic Nurse CD instead. For some bands, like, say, The Magic Band, musical virtuosity is a must to pull it off, but not for Sonic Youth. Where was the chaos, the unpredictability? Even when they "freaked out" and went into an extended "noise piece" they weren't fooling anybody, or at least not me. They'd rehearsed every single note a thousand times and it showed, the spontenaiety factor being a big, fat zero.

The upshot is this: I didn't hate it, I was just bored. That's the worst insult I could ever throw at a band. Believe me, I've seen some of the worst shit imaginable: the Dayglo Abortions (oh man, more on that some other time!) and Virgil Donati's Project X ("all-star" fusion muso band I saw as a "joke" a few years back after receiving a free pass. Ahem! More on that in the future...), but at least their unabashed worthlessness was amusing to behold, but da 'Youth, and I say this as a long-time fan, were dull as dogshit and a snorefest I wish to never repeat.

On another note, I finally bought EARTH's Extra-Capsular Extraction EP from 1991 yesterday, and it's only convinced me that they are/were one of the truly great American bands of the last 15 years. Ungodly dirges played a mile a day, the band is heaven to these ears, and after an impassioned plea from a friend to give Earth 2 another spin I'm revising my original lukewarm reaction to its grooves. Low-end drones falling in and out of riffage, I'll state an embarrassing cliche and never speak of it again: light a bowl, find a good wall to stare at and breathe in the soundwaves. It's a beautiful thing.

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