Sonic Youth: Madness and Ecstasy
We have to thank 24 year-old music lover, uglypodcast, for this excellent footage from Sonic Youth's July 3rd performance at the grand, old United Palace Theater on 175th and Broadway. Amazingly, this is almost exactly as I saw it; the camera must have been very near where I stood. In fact, the handclaps you'll hear at about 2:00, along with the maniacal howl that erupts at 2:24, belong to me. The limp and weary hands that show up at around 4:13 are almost certainly mine, as well.
They lived in that space where the deepest ecstasy mingles with danger and madness and regret, and I wanted to go there, wanted to get closer and closer, wanted to leave everything behind to be a part of it. I couldn't help but think back to that chilly Friday evening in November of '97 when Michelle and I stormed Avery Fisher Hall in our boots and jeans and felt so out of place, and felt so alive, and felt ready to tear it all down.
We sat in our cramped seats, impatiently, rocking back and forth, surrounded by gray hair and ties and glasses of champagne, until Michelle couldn't take it any more. Without prompting from the band or anyone else, Michelle grabbed my hand and pulled me from my seat and dragged me for thirty rows to the stage. As we shoved through our aisle, I sent an apologetic look over my shoulder, shrugged, and mouthed the word, "Sorry."
It was that way again, and I sort of looked around the United Palace Theater, brutally beautiful in all its golden walls and its blood-red carpets, and I wondered what could be taking Michelle so long. Grab my hand and let's run to the stage!
Of course, Michelle never showed up. But when Sonic Youth came out for their first encore, Thurston Moore waved his hand and called out to me: "Come on up here!" And I went. "I'm going up there," I said, and I pushed through Omar and John and Michael, and I found a little spot at the foot of the stage behind a girl in a white summer dress.
She was beautiful and her arms and shoulders were touched by perfect little beads of perspiration made red and gold by the flashing lights capturing the concert hall and Sonic Youth catching fire. Still, I wanted to push past, climb on stage, dance with Kim Gordon. I wanted to get there, but I couldn't go faster. Blind, blinded. I threw my arms in the air and launched my head furiously back and forth to the aching rhythm. It was as if my mind had died and I was free. Nothing mattered but that moment and that moment was pure power and beauty, and, finally relieved from my mind and the world, I would do anything for it. I would steal all the toys, drink another beer, take the shot, kiss the married girl, whatever. I would not think about the consequences.
This was Sonic Youth driving me mad and I wanted it to never end. Two encores were not enough. Closing, appropriately, with a stunning version of "Death Valley '69" from 1985's Bad Moon Rising was only so much. Listening to The Eternal now on my hi-fi, four days later, is such a sweet tease.
For another perspective and some great pictures, visit the Brooklyn Vegan.