Well, I may have opened a can of worms I wasn't prepared for. Originally, I'd planned on "StreamXSonik Subway" this week, which I thought was an interesting parallel to last week's entry on "Nevermind" and "Side2Side" (the longest lasting NYC Ghosts era tunes vs one that barely made it out of the gate). However, I was so delighted with the different riff references Lee used for "Small Flowers Crack Concrete" that I considered doubling up again, knocking out half the album in two weeks. I figured Lee's part out years ago, Thurston just tools around with a metal file under his strings, and I didn't think Kim was doing anything extravagant. Having said that, Kim's tone and odd phrasings always make her riffs a little difficult to pin down, so I referred to some of the summer 2000 tour videos gathering dust in my closet. I had a rough idea of what notes she was hitting, which is why I found myself surprised to watch her hands in action, climbing up the fretboard when my ears knew she should be moving back towards the headstock for a lower note.

And that's when I realized...I've misunderstood the Eterna's DADABB tuning for 22 years. The B strings are NOT tuned like a regular B string, they are tuned an octave below...you know, like every other Kim tuning with two Bs on top (DEGDBB, BEGDBB, and DGDDBB). Except...I know her part on "Karenology" pretty well, and that definitely has a high B in it. But my eyes and ears were telling me there was a low B in the mix, so I started to wonder...could one be low and one be high? One B low, one B high? That seemed unprecedented for Kim's style of tuning, so I had to investigate further.

Unfortunately, I only ever took one picture of the back of the Eterna's headstock, and it's not that clear - but there IS a line underneath the highest B note (the normal high E string), which usually meant "lower than the previous string". It's hard to tell if the other B string (the normal B string) has a line under it as well, but looking at my very close up pictures of the guitar itself, the ABB strings all seemed to be about the same gauge. An old tech document indicated that her BEGDBB tuning used plain .020s for both B strings, but I didn't have gauges identified for the Eterna. Except...that same tech document shows that when Thurston was using the Eterna for "Junkie's Promise", it had plain .020s for the ABB strings. It also specified that the B strings were tuned higher than the previous string, which is what I had always assumed - DADABB with both Bs matching the 2nd fret of the closest A string, aka the same pitch as a regular B string. Except...

I was never quite satisfied with my interpretation of the "Junkie's Promise" main riff. It's very clear to see what Thurston's hands are doing during that part, but I could never get it to sound as sludgy as I wanted. Suddenly, with the prospect of a low B in the mix, it made more sense...but I can also definitely hear a high B in there (check out the entry for that song, and the MTV Europe performance). There are a few errors in that sonic tech file, so I knew I had to trust my ears at some point. Plus, Kim had used the Eterna in '92 for her DEGDBB tuning, which did have the Bs tuned an octave down in unison, so it's possible when Thurston picked it up a few years later and started twisting pegs, he thought it sounded cool to have the Bs be an octave apart. Then, when Kim went scavenging for something to play following the gear theft, she just stuck with what he had done. Maybe? (Of course, Kim used it circa '93 in the "Grunge Pedal" film and Thurston played it in the "Ono Soul" video, so making an assumption as to any constant tuning at this time is probably ridiculous on my part. Plus I had that whole "My Arena" theory that was probably wrong...)

So again, I have to focus on what my ears tell me. Or do I? If one person would have the answer, it's Kim and Thurston's guitar tech from '98 onwards, Eric Baecht! So I sent him a pleading message, but 20 years of handling guitars for every band under the sun has left even him unsure of the specifics, though he seemed skeptical that the B notes would not be in unison, regardless of whether they were high or low. I felt the same, but I can't shake what I'm hearing. Actually, before I stumbled down this rabbit hole, my ear had been curiously perked by a couple moments in the April 2000 All Tomorrow's Parties performance, where Kim used the Eterna on "J'Accuse Ted Hughes", "Nevermind", and "Lightnin" (which was generally in DADGGB, but it probably wasn't worth bringing the Ibanez across the water just to poke it with a trumpet). When she first plugs it in at the start of the show and strums the strings, there is a very audible LOW B note, and likewise right before "Nevermind". I listened closely during "Lightnin" and there's definitely the high A and the low B, but I struggle to hear the high B at any point. Truth be told, if I wasn't sure the high B was in "Karenology", I would just assume it was DADABB with both Bs tuned down an octave, in unison. I suppose it's possible she altered it between NYC Ghosts and Murray Street (I don't think it would affect the rare "Nevermind" performance in 2002), but I still swear I hear the high B in Thurston's "Junkie's" verse. Soooo...what conclusion to draw?

The easiest assumption for me right now, based on the evidence, is that it was tuned DADABB with the underlined B tuned an octave down (matching the 2nd fret of the regular A string), and the high B being tuned the same as a regular B string. I wouldn't swear to it, but that covers the most bases as I try to logically thread this together. For sure, there is a low B heard in her strums in the ATP set, and her "Small Flowers Crack Concrete" part requires it to be tuned down based on her finger placements, but it's possible something changed after that. I'm going to keep digging, but I don't want to set myself too far behind (next week's article is date-specific). I would love to hear from anyone who has any thoughts, though!!


seattle 09/05/99 "small flowers crack concrete"

This unexpected research diversion really sidelined my intentions for this week's article, but I guess I should talk about the songs themselves. As I mentioned last week, when I first saw "Small Flowers Crack Concrete" at Bumbershoot, I'm 99% sure Thurston used a metal file as his note destroyer of choice, but rather than the Dearmond Jet Star in GABDEG which he'd use for the 2000 tour, I think he just used the same maroon Les Paul Special that he used for the rest of the set (and used the Jet Star - in F#F#F#F#EB? - for "She Is Not Alone"). "Not Alone" had a drumstick under the strings, and "Free City Rhymes" had a mallet (later just a drumstick), while "Lightnin'" had the infamous bike horn, but I'm pretty sure "Small Flowers" always had the metal file. He buries it under the strings directly over the neck pickup, as you can see in the video below, which I filmed in Washington on the NYC Ghosts & Flowers tour. Lee was playing the sunburst Fender Mustang in DFCDFF, and Kim was using the Eterna in DADABB, one way or another. It was one of my favorite of the eight new songs, I loved Lee's simple open string arpeggio riff, and the way Steve loosely attacked his kit before dropping the beat, building the song to a climax that dissolved into everybody just making rain on tin noises, Lee carrying the sole melody with a harmonic reprise of the main riff. I was curious to see how they would handle a vocal for it, but I was definitely not expecting a beat poetry spin, nor all three vocalists singing in unison (something they also pulled off on "Renegade Princess" - before The Eternal, this was an extremely unusual approach for Sonic Youth!). As I mentioned previously, "Renegade Princess" and "Small Flowers" generally took turns on opposite nights on the NYC Ghosts tour, though "Renegade Princess" was dropped early on (played a mere 20 times total - its final performance was actually the Carrboro, NC "Perspective Musicales" set from August 5th, 2000, one of 3 "SYR" gigs done on the Pearl Jam tour). "Small Flowers" (listed as "SM FLEURS" on set lists) didn't fare much better, though at least it made it to 2001, appearing only 30 times before its last stand in Austin, Texas on May 5th, 2001). It was one of only two songs on the album to actually feature Jim on bass, who added his part after the band recorded the song, and also contributed analog synth noise to the live versions (and I think he programmed the Groovebox simulator that Steve used on a laptop for the end of the song, since they forgot the actual Groovebox at the airport in Paris before the NYC Ghosts tour). It didn't always work live - there seemed to be cueing issues particularly leading into the group vocal section. When it did click, it was a highlight of the set!

washington, dc 06/20/00 @ 9:30 club

"StreamXSonik Subway" (aka "6") was debuted on August 26th, 1999 at the unannounced Knitting Factory gig in NYC. Just over a week later, on September 5th, it made its second and final appearance on stage in Seattle at the Bumbershoot festival. I kept waiting for it to pop up on the 2000 tour, but from what I gathered it just had too many words for Thurston to keep straight, and they couldn't make it work. As such, the song was never performed live with vocals, existing instrumentally for a few minutes on two coasts, and then gone. The version on NYC Ghosts & Flowers demonstrates some of the craziest production on the album, with what I believe is two tracks of Thurston's super low-tuned Les Paul panned left and right, a relatively buried Lee riff, Kim playing some cool bass, some possibly processed drums courtesy of Steve (and Jim?), and, if the October 2000 Lee interview in Total Guitar magazine is to be believed, a heavily processed electric pencil sharpener which is responsible for the "strange grinding sound" throughout the track!


seattle 09/05/99 "streamXsonik subway" - the final performance!

Having droned on about the gear theft, I do want to clarify that while it was a colossal loss for the band at the time - in terms of gear, money, and sentimentality (some of the instruments like the Drifter, Lee's f-hole Tele, the blue Jazzmaster knock-off, and the "old wood" Jaguar dated back to the first few years of the band, plus so many had been modified specifically to their tastes), it really did push them in a new creative direction. Steve's mammoth A Thousand Leaves era kit, whose various bells and gongs and clay drums represent many, many lines on the master list of stolen gear, was reduced to a much simpler set for the NYC Ghosts tour and beyond, with no real effect on the quality of his performance (as much as I loved all of those percussive intricacies in the SYR-era material). They were able to mostly replenish the same group of effects pedals they'd relied on, with some being replaced (Lee's vintage Maestro Ring Modulator was substituted with a Big Briar Moogerfooger Ring Modulator, which became equally important to his sound moving forward) and some being abandoned (the loss of Lee's Mu-Tron Bi-Phase, so big it needed its own suitcase, resulted in him never really using a phaser effect on his board again). As frustrating as it would be to lose 27 carefully fine-tuned guitars overnight, they did have plenty more waiting for them back home. Kim revisiting the Eterna had a key effect on her tone for the next few records, and Thurston deciding to think outside his Fender box with a freshly purchased Les Paul Special would radically shape the entire sound of NYC Ghosts & Flowers.

To quote him: "I mean, I'd never touched a Les Paul, and all of a sudden, on the bulk of this record, I'm playing a very strangely tuned Les Paul with something like a .052 or .056 gauge low string tuned to a C that's dropped three or four times." To quote him again: "I tuned the upper strings so low that they sounded almost percussive and had a bass character. That was so crazy that it was fun again. It was as if we had to develop a new tool first - and that was incredibly creative." Just to be clear, the tuning has the low E string tuned nearly an octave down to F (.064 gauge!), the A string tuned over an octave down to G (which would match the 2nd fret of the F string if you could get it intonated - the .062 gauge helps!), the DGB strings all tuned one step down to CFA, and the high E tuned down nearly an octave to F#.

My original tab for "Small Flowers" from 20+ years ago was pretty good, but I'm glad I considered revisiting it if only to have a new mystery to distract myself with anytime I listen to a show where Kim uses the Eterna. I've made some updates to the transcription, but mostly I wanted to shine a light on Lee's chart for the song, which offers more insight into how he'd identify certain parts. The main open string arpeggiation is considered the "Creedence riff" - perhaps vaguely reminding him of CCR's overall sound, or maybe a specific guitar part (it could have hints of "Born on the Bayou" or "Suzie Q", depending on how your ear works). The next little lick is the "Get Back riff", presumably an allusion to John Lennon's snake-like lead on the Beatles classic. "Friction bass riff" surely refers to the opening riff of Television's "Friction", and Sonic Youth's own "Green Light" is used to describe the furious trem picking in the song's most explosive movement, a reference also made in the score for "NYC Ghosts & Flowers" (which makes me curious as to why "Green Light" is the benchmark for that approach - we'll get to it someday!).

When I first tried to work out "StreamXSonik Subway" all those years ago, I assumed that Thurston was in the left speaker and Lee was in the right. However, I've come to realize that two tracks of Thurston's Les Paul appear in stereo on some songs, with Lee's track somewhere slightly off-center. Even with his score notes, I still have a hard time picking out Lee's part on the record. I have a hunch that Lee put these notes together after the album was recorded, in preparation for the tour, so they may not always reflect the recorded version of the song (indeed the two live versions that do exist strike me as fairly different from the album, and I find Lee's guitar difficult to isolate there, as well). I tried to balance out the live takes with the studio interpretation, and offer something that kinda works, but I do admit it's a little shaky. Get yr pencil sharpener ready!

Please let me know if you have any comments/corrections! Particularly curious if anyone has any insight on the Eterna situation...





w/ metal file under strings



A - B - A - B - C - D - E


A SECTION				00:00-00:44

Lee starts by playing a low D note, then plays this arpeggiated riff beginning at 0:24:

D--------0-----0-----------0-------0--- x 2

Thurston jams a metal file under his strings, directly over the pick-up, and plays on either side 
of it throughout the song. At the start he is just plucking out random arpeggios. After the line 
"back seats of cop cars" he rakes the strings between Lee's first two open string riffs (0:28), 
then after Lee's second open string pass, it sounds like there's another guitar down the middle 
that rakes the strings again (0:33), unless this is Lee just strumming behind the bridge of his 
guitar after playing his riff? Since Thurston starts picking randomly right after (off to the left).

Kim lightly strums one chord in a rhythm similar to "Nevermind":

A---7--7--7-7--7--7-7---  etc etc
A---0--0--0-0--0--0-0---  lift your fingers off the 7th fret so they don't sustain

The note on the 7th fret of the A string is much more prominent on live versions, on the
record it almost sounds like she's playing 0070xx - she does change her part slightly
live, so it's possible she's actually not hitting that note on the album. I think her part
sounds less "bright" with that note in there, which might work better overall for the song.

On the live video I posted, you can hear she already has the open low B string bleeding 
into the chord right from the start.

B SECTION				00:44-01:04

Lee then plays the "Get Back" riff:


Between Lee's two "Get Back" licks, there is a left rake followed directly by a center rake.
Kim strums the same chord until 1:01 when she lets the open low B string ring out:

A---7--7--7-7--7---7-7--7-7-7-7---  keep the DADA strings soft, let the B ring loud

A SECTION				01:04-01:24

Lee plays a variation of his arpeggiated open string riff.

Thurston starts wiggling the file around, letting the strings sound naturally.
Kim keeps playing her main rhythm w/ the open B included.

Jim's bass enters with the drums:

D----------3-3-------------3-3-------  repeat variation

B SECTION				01:24-01:43

Lee plays a variation of the "Get Back" riff:


Thurston keeps wiggling the file around, letting the strings sound naturally.
Kim keeps playing her main rhythm w/ the open B included.

Jim's bass is very subtle and buried in the mix, but on live versions he continued the
previous riff for this section.

C SECTION				01:44-02:03

Lee plays the "Friction" riff:

D------0--0--0------0--0----- (staccato)
F------------------------0--- x 4

Thurston is making occasional file noise during this part.
Kim continues softly playing the same D chord, without the prominent B, until 2:00 when
she moves to this note:

A--(0)--  open string optional

Again, Jim's bassline is pretty quiet, but it sounds like he basically follows Lee's riff:


Actually, is he tuning down to drop D before the song on that Washington video? Maybe it's
more like this:


D SECTION				02:03-04:04

Lee starts by playing his main "Creedence" riff, then goes off at 2:23:

F-------------12--12--12-----12----12-----------------12~-12~-12~--x-12b-b12r--- w/ heavy delay



F---12-----------------------------  this is about 3:00 in and 
D------12----12--------12----------   the distortion + delay makes it
C---------12--------12----12-9~~---    a little hard to discern every note...
D----------------------------------      so improvise around that area....

at 3:05 he starts climbing low notes w/ heavy delay then ends up back at the 12th fret:

at 3:18:


Keep trem picking last D note w/ heavy distortion/delay until the end of section,
sliding back into the outro.

Thurston continues doing mostly random string strikes, maybe even pick scrapes?
Around 2:55 he starts striking the strings in a pretty constant rhythm as everyone
else gets more intense. By 3:30 he's really going wild with it.

Kim now adds the G# note on the low B string to her riff. It's the same rhythm as the
rest of her part, but if you watch it live you can see she pulls off the 7th fret to
strike the 9th fret, which is when I first realized the B string had to be tuned down.
She could have easily gone from the 6th to 7th fret on the D string for the same effect.


As the section continues, it sounds like she might be adding the 9th fret on the A:


By 3:30 things are getting pretty choppy and she gets a little inconsistent with the
rhythm, trailing off a bit right as the climax breaks.

Jim keeps playing the same D to F motif, probably with more flourishes than I listed 
above cuz hey, he's Jim!

E SECTION				04:04-05:12

Lee plays a harmonic version of his main "Creedence" riff:

D-----------------*12*-----------*12*------------------*12*----------------*12*---  clean w/ delay

Kim taps the strings over the pick-ups with both hands, in a typewriter motion.

Thurston also taps the strings over the pick-ups with both hands.

During live versions, Jim would use his EMS Synthi to make noise during the end of the song. 
I don't know if he does anything on the record. He could be lightly scraping the bass strings.

text + tab by Chris Lawrence







A - B - C - A  

A SECTION				00:00-00:53

Thurston has two tracks, one in each speaker. The right speaker starts first, then the left joins in
after a stray harmonic. I'll just show the full riff for both, but here is the harmonic that starts
the left speaker:


Thurston's left speaker riff:

F-------*7*--8------------*7*--8------------*7*--8--------------------------- PLAY VARIATION 6 TIMES

Thurston's right speaker riff:


Lee's part is SO buried between Thurston's chunky skrunk. Even with his notes, I'm not sure I hear 
anything aside from stray 7th fret harmonics and the "G chord" he plays at the end of each passage. 
I think his chord chart would look something like this, but it's not very audible.


On the Bumbershoot version, it almost sounds like he's just playing:

C------------------   but I do hear other notes here and there...

Kim's verse riff:

G-----------------------------------------------------------------------  listen for how she
D---13-14-\17----13-14--17-16----13-14-\17------------------------------    slides between 14/17

B SECTION				00:53-01:11

Thurston's LEFT speaker guitar does not play during this part. The RIGHT speaker
just drones the low F string:

G--------------------- etc
Lee repeats this chord:

C---0---0---0---0----- etc

Kim plays:

D---14------14------------------------------ x 4

C SECTION				01:12-02:20

Both of Thurston's guitars play chunky muted strings (with low F string bleeding in),
until 1:57-ish when he starts stabbing the open strings at the start of each bar.

F#--X--X-X-X-X-X-X--X--X-X-X-X-X-X---       --0--X-X-X-X-X-X--0--X-X-X-X-X-X---
A---X--X-X-X-X-X-X--X--X-X-X-X-X-X---       --0--X-X-X-X-X-X--0--X-X-X-X-X-X---
F---X--X-X-X-X-X-X--X--X-X-X-X-X-X---	    --0--X-X-X-X-X-X--0--X-X-X-X-X-X--- 
C---X--X-X-X-X-X-X--X--X-X-X-X-X-X--- then: --0--X-X-X-X-X-X--0--X-X-X-X-X-X--- etc.
G---X--X-X-X-X-X-X--X--X-X-X-X-X-X---	    --0--X-X-X-X-X-X--0--X-X-X-X-X-X---
F---0--0-0-0-0-0-0--0--0-0-0-0-0-0---	    --0--X-X-X-X-X-X--0--X-X-X-X-X-X---

However, there are hints of 7th fret harmonics in the mutes, so he's probably muting around
the 7th fret and occasionally lightening up to allow the harmonics in.
There's so much processing going on in this section (including the drums and apparently a pencil 
sharpener) that it makes Lee's part very hard to discern. I *think* his main track is playing heavy 
chunky mutes like Thurston, with thick distortion, and then he overdubbed a guitar playing ascending 
trem picked notes beginning around 2:00:


Per his notes, the live version would have featured climbing from the 3rd to 12th fret, with harmonics
and distortion, and descending ring mod swoops. You can hear the ring mod start spacing out around 2:22
in the Bumbershoot version.

Kim holds an F note, and then I think she adds an A:

G--------         --------
D--------         --------
A--------  then:  ---12---
E---13---         ---13---

She may even do a bit more, but it's so fuzzy and does it *really* matter? Does it? (I hope not!)

A SECTION				02:20-02:51

Play 3 times.

text + tab by Chris Lawrence

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