On a snowy New England evening Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Deb Googe (My Bloody Valentine), James Sedwards (Nøught), Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth), and Jon Leidecker a.k.a Wobbly brought their symphonic quintet to Gateway City Arts in Western Mass, the unofficial home of the “hardcore artcore noise scene”. Opening shows on this leg of east coast dates was multi-instrumentalist Devin Brahja Waldman known primarily as a saxophonist, drummer, and composer from New York City. Waldman donned only his sax for these shows while showcasing his virtuosity in a range of styles while showcasing his improv free jazz skills in particular.
With two mic stands standing tall downstage and center the other instruments and amps set up receded into the background as Devin Waldman took his place. Immediately something felt off, however, his gate or his posture or shit even his haircut, something didn’t feel quite right but in the best possible sense. The evening was set adrift without protocol, no salutation or “Hello Holyoke, I’m Devin Waldman, but rather a lone hornman with a bag of quirks and a whole lot of surprises for the unsuspecting audience. For those unfamiliar with the geography and the politics of weed in Massachusetts, the closest legal dispensary to the venue is but 10 miles away and as such there may have been a few audience members in an altered state when Waldman’s antics kicked in like an edible. Following what in retrospect amounted to be a 10 minute warm-up, Waldman took his bird calls and chirps to the next level including bodily contortions and vocal projections prior to or in conjunction with horn blasts. He moved away from the anchor of his microphone and began exploring the space on stage never moving too far up stage away from the audience. His lateral wandering gave way to a more confrontational stance at the edge of the stage, at times placing one foot on the security barrier. With growing intensity and repetition Waldman’s notes propelled him up and over the barrier and into the crowd. With a growing sense of self-awareness I realized his first stop of this audience tour was in front of me. Now I don’t mean 6 feet in front, I mean within the bubble of personal space in front. I grimaced and held my camera to my chest as if to say, “I am not moving, not even a muscle to document this awkwardness”. Perhaps a “good” photographer would have clicked his shutter to document the moment but all I could do was freeze like a Rodin rendering in bronze. After Waldman was on his way I thawed and began snapping what photos I could among the unlit floorspace. During this time, anxiety among the audience grew exponentially. One individual muttered to himself and grimaced at the dissonant notes that blasted at odd intervals from Waldman’s horn. So much so that at one point the man threw up both arms with clenched fists donning nothing but an outstretched middle finger on both hands. Upon lowering his obscene stance he continued to mutter to himself and appeared uneasy for the remainder of the set. On the flip-side of the same coin was the diminutive center of attention kid who felt privileged in this particular scenario to shout verbal garbage during the performance and even worse touch the performer all the while seemingly sarcastically shouting “fucking awesome dude”. I’ll never quite understand this mindset. Regardless, in the end, what was the most memorable was the performance of Mr. Waldman whose range was so wide that many were simply unable to make sense of it.
Having completed a tour in the fall of 2018 with virtually the same lineup, with the exception of Leidecker who was then an opener for the quartet, the Thurston Moore Group was tighter, sharper, and in deep synchronicity this time around. While the other members often followed the bodily cues of Moore, their readiness for those transitions were more fluid and seamless. There appeared a freedom for each performer to see to their parts without hesitation or anxiety as was at times the case this time last year. The parts are many and varied with so much to remember it’s a wonder they’re able to pull off the sprawling 30+ minute compositions which bleed from one to the next without notation or other visual aids.
Performing “Alice Moki Jayne” followed by “8 Spring Street” from the new album entitled Spirit Counsel was an exercise in meditative entrancement, both for the performers and audience alike. In the age of instant gratification the anticipation, the building momentum, and the crescendo proved all the sweeter for those who remained on board the oscillating sonic ship built piece by piece by the band and steered through the roiling ocean of sound by Captain Moore. Deb Googe set up with her 6 string bass in front of Steve Shelley’s vintage Ludwig kit where he generated pulsations and rhythms not often ascribed with your typical rock drummer. Sedwards roamed the stage in front of Googe while Leidecker sat at a table with several ipads daisy chained at stage right. The conductor if you will, Thurston Moore set up at stage left all the while facing his fellow bandmates remaining in visual contact throughout the performance, at least when necessary. As the rise and fall of their Branca-esque compositions gave way to more aggressive aural assaults akin to mid-90’s Sonic Youth explosions the crowd rose and fell with the harmonic tide.
As 8 Spring Street drew to a close the band exited the stage only to do so in continued darkness. While the crowd cheered loudly for more, the general expectation was that they were done for the evening. After a very short respite they returned to the stage with Thurston taking up a vocal mic to warn us “be careful what you wish for”. He then introduced the rest of the band before launching into a sprawling encore that felt both accessible at times, even dancy at times, to the more noisy and a tonal. In the end, the performance lasted close to 90 minutes and reflected both elements of the outside landscape. Harsh sharp crystalline edges often gave way to warm round blankets of sound dampening refrains. It was simply the perfect night for the sonic snowfall of the Thurston Moore Group. Catch them in a city near you!