The thing about seeing Sonic Youth is, no matter what else is going on in the venue, the city or even the world at that very moment, there is no question the show will be staggeringly beautiful. It won't be flashy or dramatic, and it won't inappropriately drag on. A Sonic Youth show will be exactly what it is supposed to be: uniquely brilliant, appropriately understated and mind-blowing without being huge. Heavy with stunning material from last year's The Eternal, Sonic Youth dialed in an immaculate set last night to a receptive Ogden Theatre crowd.
The quintet appeared casually -- no introduction by lowered stage lights or additional music -- and after a few cool smiles and waves, "Bull in the Heather" began, Kim Gordon's sweet, breathy growl coming through from underneath a curtain of blond bangs. Stepping out from the shadow of the light for "Sacred Trickster," Gordon came to the edge of the stage, audience member's hands reaching out and heads bowing and bobbing in her honor. Thurston Moore, with his teenage kicks and shaggy hair, hung out stage left, coming forward to sing "No Way" before Gordon resurfaced for "Calming the Snake."
Then it was Lee Ranaldo's turn on vocals, which led the band into its first real bout of serious feedback during "Mote," with multiple layers of guitar and bass forming ghostly howls between airy, dissonant screeches. The five members fell into their own worlds for "Antenna" but remained cohesive within the confines of the set, Moore speaking a few words before "Schizophrenia" and "Catholic Block." He followed a brief pause in sound with a subtle and smirking dedication of "Anti-Orgasm" to the Tea Party movement, in which he and Gordon's voices punctuated each other in perfect, heated exhalations.
"Poison Arrow" brought Ranaldo, Moore and Gordon together melodically, holding on powerfully front and center as bassist Mark Ibold and drummer Steve Shelley continued to anchor the beat. From the gorgeous, Fender-heavy collection of a few dozen guitars that flanked the stage, Moore pulled out an acoustic and took a momentary seat for "What We Know." The circular "Massage the History" seared the sound system with Gordon's wavering vocals, and the band faded out with her last few singing guitar notes.
After a handful of minutes passed with the stage lighting staying the same, Sonic Youth drifted back to its relaxed audience and carefully ripped through each portion of "Trilogy," Moore's voice cracking open the Daydream Nation three-parter. The band left again for only a few moments before returning for a second encore, melding "Shadow of a Doubt" and "Expressway to Yr Skull" together into true Sonic Youth bliss.
The outfit sawed away at strings with miniature bows, pushed headstock into the floor, dragged guitars around by their straps, and gave amps gentle shoves, producing an electric sea of satisfying feedback. As the set came to a close, Sonic Youth humbly said their thank-yous and goodbyes, making final eye contact with a satisfied audience. The air in the Ogden Theatre hung heavy and warm, a feeling of intense satisfaction setting in as the audience made its own slow exit.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I have only seen Sonic Youth four times, but I can't imagine the band ever playing a bad show. Random Detail: Caldera Lakes played a short and early set -- meaning I missed a monumental moment in Denver music history by not getting to witness Brittany Gould open for Sonic Youth. By the Way: The misogynistic gentleman who chose to start a fight with me and two other women in the audience apparently has never listened to the lyrics to "Anti-Orgasm." Or read an interview with Thurston Moore, for that matter.
Find a complete set list on the next page
Sonic Youth 10.05.10 | Ogden Theatre Denver, CO
01. Bull in the Heather 02. Sacred Trickster 03. No Way 04. Calming the Snake 05. Mote 06. Antenna 07. Schizophrenia 08. Catholic Block 09. Anti-Orgasm 10. Poison Arrow 11. What We Know 12. Massage the History
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14. Shadow of a Doubt 15. Expressway to Yr Skull