Date: Thursday, September 16th, 1999 City: Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA Venue: Old Cambridge Baptist Church
(review thanx to atn/sonicnet) Sonic Youth Guitarist Unplugs For Church Performance Thurston Moore still brings an array of effects pedals with him. Correspondent Sheril Stanford reports Fri., September 17, 11:29 PM EDT -------------------------------------------------------------- CAMBRIDGE, Mass.: While torrential rains and blustering winds left over from Hurricane Floyd whipped through a deserted Harvard Square on Thursday night, Thurston Moore calmly settled his lanky frame into a chair on the altar of the Old Cambridge Baptist Church. Not about to let a measly hurricane dampen his plans, Moore slowly and silently buttoned the cuffs of his long-sleeved white shirt, plugged his Taylor acoustic guitar into a midsized Peavey amp and spoke his first words of the evening: "Geez, I hope I don't get electrocuted up here - my feet are soaked." The Sonic Youth guitarist/singer's rare solo acoustic performance - aided by a complicated array of effects pedals - was sponsored by the young Boston label Sublingual Records, which billed the show as a chance to see the quieter side of the noise musician. The show, promoted mainly via the Internet and word of mouth, drew a cozy crowd of around 200. While the set was somewhat more low-key than Moore's usual offerings, it most definitely was not quiet. And the church setting contributed a layer of visual dissonance to Moore's usual sonic dissonance. Dressed in a button-down shirt, jeans with big rolled-up cuffs, and athletic shoes, Moore sat in a wooden chair with broken slats on a low, red-carpeted altar. Two lecterns, adorned with crosses, flanked the stage. The air in the old building was permeated with an aged, musty smell; the floors creaked as people adjusted themselves in their pews. Moore was lit not by spotlights, but by dim, dusty chandeliers with their bulbs focused at odd angles. The acoustics approached perfection, with the treble sounds ringing high and clear all the way to the back of the cavernous chapel. He began with "Empty Page" which, like most of the songs in the set, was a minimalist piece with no vocals. It featured spiky, dissonant chords and paired notes, with phrases frequently repeated or revisited in slightly modified form. The songs began at a slow, expectant pace, with a single note per measure, and built to a frenzied and furious level, with Moore's fingers flying over the fret board, his right hand a strumming blur. Moore's fear of electrocution, fortunately, was unfounded. He performed his six-song set safely, although not without incident. A proselytizer interrupted Moore's nearly trance-like concentration with a disjointed rant about God, man's place in the universe and something about "admiring scum." Clearly taken by surprise, Moore stopped playing. He was momentarily at a loss, perplexed rather than irritated. Lest anyone think the interruption was part of the show, Moore told the crowd, "This is not a Fluxus piece, folks," referring to the post-Dada 1950s performance-art movement. Eventually, after repeatedly shaking hands with Moore, the interloper left the stage. Moore took a deep breath and said, "Well. I guess I'll just pick up where I left off." He jumped back in with a full-fledged acoustic assault, "scritching" his pick on the guitar's oddly tuned strings and using the heel of his hand for percussion. For Ryan Mays, a student from Lexington, Ky., seeing Moore perform in such an intimate venue was a dream come true. Mays, who spoke briefly with Moore as he set up his pedals, was one of many who sought a private audience with him whenever the guitarist stood in one place for more than a minute or two before the show. When asked what they talked about, Mays laughed and said, "I don't know! I don't remember! Just stuff. He's my idol! I can't believe I just talked to him!" After a film and a performance by local avant-jazz band Saturnalia, Moore returned to the stage with a Fender Jaguar electric guitar and six effects-pedals, along with alto sax player Wally Shoup and percussionist Toshi Makihara. Matching the bluster of Hurricane Floyd, which still blew outside, the three musicians set off a storm of noise, with Shoup's sax screeching into a microphone and Makihara using coconut shells, plastic beer cups, bicycle tire rims, a Styrofoam cooler, a stuffed animal, Slinkys and strands of wire, as well as his small drum kit, for percussion. If it could be done to a guitar or a guitar string, Moore did it to his shiny blue Jaguar - decorated with a pink octopus - all the while rocking back and forth from heel to toe, eyes closed, transported by the noise. Moore, who released the solo album Psychic Hearts, featuring "Ono Soul" and "Elegy for All the Dead Rock Stars," said he still holds out hope that Sonic Youth's instruments, stolen along with a Ryder truck July 4 in Orange, Calif., would be recovered. The band has said the collection of modified guitars will be almost impossible to replace.Return to the Sonic Youth Concert Chronology.