Sonic Youth, the Eternal

I miss Sonic Youth.

In this video, produced by Pitchfork.TV, we see the band's most recent and, in my opinion, tightest, strongest, best, lineup—Steve Shelley (drums), Kim Gordon (gtr/vox), Thurston Moore (gtr/vox), Lee Ranaldo (gtr/vox), and Mark Ibold (bass)—performing "Calming the Snake," from the 2009 album, The Eternal.

Michael Lavorgna and I were sitting at the small bar at Great Jones Cafe. We had just ordered the round that would put us over the edge, and I was trying to explain to Mark Ibold what made Sonic Youth so special. Ibold was tending bar that night. This was before the band announced their "break."

I had said something about precision, violence, power, and beauty.

"You see, they need to hear this stuff," Ibold said.

It made no sense. Why would Sonic Youth need to hear my thoughts about their music? Didn't they already know how special they were?

And now I wonder if this was some sort of foreshadowing—a small hint that everything wasn't as it seemed. Like a child of divorced parents, now I wonder if the breakup was my fault. Could I have said or done something to keep the band together? If only I hadn't been so shy, intimidated, selfish.

But that's silly.

I miss Sonic Youth. And that's strange because their albums exist, these videos exist, my memories exist—if not quite accurately, only enhanced by time.

What is it about the live performance that defies every recorded document, even those of the highest fidelity?

dalethorn's picture

This may be the first time I've heard a rock group performing with equal freshness and relevance to what they did way back when ... my all-time fave Teenage Riot is slightly more twee sounding than this rocker, but this is great!

Stephen Mejias's picture

During the same live session, they do a sweet, laidback version of "Schizophrenia."  Check it out here.

stella's picture

Meh. I've owned all their LP's since the 80's. Actually have never listened to this song before on Eternal, that I can remember. Wish the whole band would do some ambient stuff with guitars, like Frusciante.

Thanks for posting.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Wish the whole band would do some ambient stuff with guitars, like Frusciante.

I'm not sure about the Frusciante part (and that's not a diss on John Frusciante—I just don't know his solo stuff), but Sonic Youth has released tons of instrumental guitar-based work. If you're interested, you can check out everything in their SYR series. My faves are probably SYR1: Anagrama, SYR4: Goodbye 20th Century, and SYR7: J'Accuse Ted Hughes. Silver Session for Jason Knuth is also awesome. But I really enjoy them all.

stella's picture

Cool to see Ibold with them. They seem to be doing a Branca inspired deal.

Stephen Mejias's picture

The story goes that Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, who had already started Sonic Youth, met Lee Ranaldo when Lee was playing with Branca's electric guitar ensemble.  Thurston and Kim were impressed and asked Lee to join their band.

Sonic Youth later worked with Branca on other projects.

itsratso's picture

here in chicago on the tiny station WVVX, steve albini (who had just started his new band, big black) did a radio show called antidote radio in the early 80's. he played a song called burning spear off sonic youth's first e.p. that i went out and bought. it remains my favorite thing they have ever done, although it is the most hated universally  (because it sounds nothing like what they would go on to be). very ethereal dream time music.