Recently re-released as an expanded double-disc (QRO review), and last year inducted by the Library of Congress into the National Recording Registry, Daydream Nation’s resurgence culminated in Sonic Youth playing the entire record at a few dates. July 28th at McCarren (QRO venue review) was one of only three dates in the entire country (the others being in Los Angeles, and at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago – QRO Festival Guide), with this the return home for the Big Apple band. And what a return it was…
‘Psyched’ does not even begin to describe how excited the massive crowd at McCarren Park Pool was. The limited number of dates meant that the audience was composed of people from far and wide, and the ages ranged from those who could have been following the band from the start of their 25-year career, to those who weren’t even born yet when Daydream Nation dropped. Different in so many ways, they were united in their love of Daydream Nation, their love of Sonic Youth. There was an absolute crush up front, with the sprawling, sold-out crowd expanding across the 3,000-person capacity decrepit community pool.
The event had a unique nature, what with the set-list being known beforehand (though many fans would, at times, check their iPods to see what was coming up next). More importantly, there was a natural flow to the line-up of songs, but it was a flow designed for a record, not for a live concert. To that end, Sonic Youth played like the record, forsaking almost any between-song banter, and not featuring their recent touring addition, former Pavement bassist Mark Ibold. Instead, Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Lee Renaldo, and Steve Shelley just laid Daydream Nation out there, bare, starting with the sweet, sweet strains of “Teen Age Riot”.
When the first guitar strums of “Riot” echoed across McCarren, along with Gordon’s initial “yeah”s, the crowd erupted. The response was a little odd, for Daydream Nation’s low-key opening, but then the intro ended and the harder chords began, matching the crowd in intensity. That isn’t to say Sonic Youth didn’t have some fun: during their “Riot” jam, Moore and Renaldo rushed each other, smashing into each other their chests, and their guitars– and then Moore proceeded to wave his instrument around in the air, ‘like he just don’t care’. Just as how only a band as good as Sonic Youth could pull off having such a – when you think about it – trite name, so could only they be the ones to pull off having a song with such a trite name as “Teen Age Riot” (especially as they’re anything but ‘youth’ or ‘teen age’ anymore).
The excited intensity that started the show kept up with the driving “Silver Rocket”, Gordon’s incredible “The Sprawl”, and through to Renaldo’s near-perfect “Eric’s Trip”. “The Sprawl” was a particular highlight, with Gordon’s “Does this sound simple? Fuck you! Are you for sale? Does ‘fuck you’ sound simple enough?” really exploding, and Renaldo playing his guitar with a bow in parts. There might have been some slippage with “Total Trash”, as the audience’s initial fervor was to wane, once they’d heard at least one song from all three singers, but then Gordon brought it all back with “Hey Joni”.
But one of the night’s most memorable moments had to be “Providence”. Less a ‘song’ than a phone message (from said city) left by Minutemen/fIREHOSE bassist Mike Watt, combined with amp feedback and a poorly recorded piano solo, it was questionable how the track would play out, live. But with Renaldo and Moore on either side, in the dark, experimenting with their speakers, “Providence” resonated as the crowd got a chance to take a breather and shift their mood, all the while listening to a two-decade old phone message. The only way it could have been more haunting was if the late Minutemen guitarist D. Boon (whose 1985 death led to the break-up of The Minutemen, with Watt going on to found fIREHOSE) had left the message. The crowd didn’t quite reach the same peak of energy after “Providence”, though “Candle” and “Kissability” put more of an upbeat, dance-y spin on things. And “The Trilogy” of songs not only gave Sonic Youth a chance to again experiment, but also for the crowd to realize Daydream Nation was coming to a close, and to take in every last drop.
The huge, screaming crowds demanded an encore, but what could Sonic Youth play for one? Start into the first licks of Goo (the album that followed Daydream)? Play the few original extras on Daydream Nation (Deluxe Edition)? Just start up with “Teen Age Riot” again? Renaldo was the first to let the audience in on where they were going, when he announced (in just about the first spoken words of the entire performance), “Welcome back to the 21st century!” With that, and the appearance of Ibold (who, Moore said, had been invited to play onstage with the band for Daydream Nation, but had chosen not to, in order to, “keep it pure”), Sonic Youth told the audience they were delving into new material, and proceeded to play tracks solely off of last year’s Rather Ripped.
There were probably a number of fans, especially older fans, who would have preferred to remain in the twentieth century, and with a band as good – and as long-lived – as Sonic Youth, there’s bound to be a million songs anyone wishes they would play. Perhaps playing exclusively off of Ripped was a little indulgent, but in many ways, as the first album since their 2002-2005 period with Jim O’Rourke, Rather Ripped was a return to older Sonic Youth, and as such, fit well out of Daydream Nation. No, “Reena” or “What a Waste” are not yet ‘classics’, but they still rock, and provided the band with a second (and, with their second encore, third) wind.
The songs also gave the group a chance to talk to the audience, especially Moore. Moore told the crowd how big a deal it was to hear Daydream Nation in such a big space, because, “when I demoed it at my apartment, on 8th Street in Manhattan, is was in a room the size of my amplifier” (though one has to admit, Moore has a very big amplifier). And when the crowd begged for a third encore, for the show to never end, he replied, “Dude, we’d play all night, if only the city would pass the ‘Anarchy Ordinance’.” Going ‘back to the future’ also let the band bring Ibold on, which meant that Kim was liberated from playing bass during “What a Waste”, and could thus spin and dance to her heart’s content.
As Sonic Youth played Daydream Nation, the silhouette of a candle from the record’s cover loomed as a large backdrop, imposed over other light show patterns. In a way, it served to remind the crowd of the unprecedented nature of what they were witnessing. And in that, it all fit together – the unprecedented nature of an unprecedented album being played as an unprecedented show.