MUSIC | Rock gods Sonic Youth bring high art to First Ave


Sonic Youth’s concert Tuesday night at First Avenue should be at the top of everyone’s best-of lists for 2009, coming from one of the greatest groups ever to grace the club’s stage. The club was packed by 8:45, but the line for entry stayed busy an hour after that.

Michigan band Awesome Color, who happen to be labelmates of Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore, opened. Anticipation was high for Sonic Youth, to the extent that the sweaty, popcorn-throwing fans were distracted throughout Awesome Color’s set.

But the crowd didn’t have to wait long between sets—which was a good thing, since besides the club being uncomfortably packed, the crowd also had to deal with PBR being sold out early on in the night (at five dollars a tallboy, it’s the cheapest thing available at First Ave). Sonic Youth took the stage around 10:30. The band started off with songs from their latest album, The Eternal, playing “Sacred Trickster” second. Interspersed throughout the set were classics such as “Catholic Block” and “Stereo Sanctity.”

The stage setup for Sonic Youth was a show in itself, and was telling of the band’s roots in the 1980s New York art scene. The backdrop was adorned with canvases stretched over rectangular frames, creating light boxes revealing canvases that had been burnt out to create abstract shapes, sometimes appearing to be nothing than a series of ink blots or forms in a lava lamp. The strobe and spotlight morphed the light boxes into psychedelic forms, and made the stage reminiscent of the bands early-90s music videos. Kim Gordon’s silver dress caught the light’s reflection well, feeding into the cool illusions.

Sonic Youth lived up to their role as rock gods through the duration of the set, expertly building momentum by interspersing selections from their library with tracks from the new record. The tempo slowed more and more as the band neared the show’s end, but it came roaring back in the encore. Sonic Youth played for an hour, ending the set on a mellow note before returning to the stage for a ten-minute encore, then a second, concluding with fan favorite “Death Valley ’69.”

Crystal Erickson ( is a freelance writer and photographer, with preoccupations in hip-hop, art, and bicycle anarchy.

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