Shortly after Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, founders of Sonic Youth, announced their divorce in October of 2011, the group played their last ever show together in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The following month a reporter from Belgian magazine HUMO asked if Sonic Youth would ever reunite Ranaldo replied “I fear not. Everybody is busy with their own projects, besides Thurston and Kim aren’t getting along together very well since their split. I think you can put a cross behind Sonic Youth, same as you can put it behind the names Mike Kelley and Lou Reed. Let them all rest in peace.” And with that, a chapter of Rock and Roll history spanning over four decades was closed.
Although many were of course disappointed by Sonic Youth’s split, this was not a band cut down in their prime due to the death of a member or internal strife that couldn’t be overcome. This was more akin to losing a 95-year-old relative and thinking “damn, that was a good run, I hope to stick around that long.” Now that Sonic Youth fans have had time enough to grieve they’re excited to hear what each member are working on. I caught Thurston’s Chelsea Light Moving last year and was impressed. It makes sense I suppose that their sound was not terribly dissimilar to Sonic Youth, it was after all Thurston’s band. Kim’s collaboration with Bill Nace entitled Body/Head alludes to her passion as an artist and is a bit more experimental and abstract than Chelsea Light Moving but beautiful and haunting in its own right. This brings us to Lee Ranaldo and the Dust.
Last Night on Earth is Lee’s 10th album in what has proven to be a prolific solo career spanning over 25 years. The double LP, released by Matador in July of 2013, features longtime Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, Alan Licht (Run On) on guitar, and Ted Lüntzel on bass who collectively make up “The Dust”. Despite the avant-garde reputations of both Ranaldo and Licht “Last Night on Earth” is pleasantly harmonic and melodious while leaving room for extended live improvisations. In a sense, this is precisely what I witnessed on stage January 9th at the Spaceland Ballroom. As a nod to opener Steve Gunn, who captivated the early crowd with his Fahey/Basho/Bull inspired strummings, Lee chose to open the set with a cover of The Byrd’s “Everybody’s Been Burned”. Lee introduced the next song, “Lecce, Leaving”, by sharing with the crowd the inspiration he took away from his time in Italy with his family. It was so refreshing to see during the 7-plus minute song the guys exchanging glances and smiling, appearing genuinely happy playing together. In typical Lee Ranaldo fashion, there were moments of experimentation that included playing his guitar with a bow and shaking what appeared to be Tibetan bells like a whirling dervish. It was also entertaining watching Lee swap out his guitar for another, presumably in a different tuning, after each song. The remainder of the set included many of the tracks from the album as well as Wire’s “Fragile” and “Revolution Blues” by Neil Young. It’s no wonder Sonic Youth accomplished all they have given the talenet of each individual member. If there is a silver lining in their breakup it’s getting to see each member showcase their own material in their own idiosyncratic way.
Everybody’s Been Burned (The Byrds cover)
By the Window
The Rising Tide
Off The Wall
(Neil Young cover)