I’ve written previously how Mogwai served up my last live experience as a Londoner, yet I was but a month-old Amsterdammer before I found myself back in Blighty’s capital at one of it’s most venerable live music institutions – the Roundhouse, home to (apparently) classic gigs by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, the Doors (their only UK show), Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie (and where My Bloody Valentine will be making their live comeback) – for Sonic Youth‘s run-through of their 1988 album “Daydream Nation“.
Daydream Nation” is considered by many to be Sonic Youth’s finest – personally, that honour goes to the previous year’s “Sister“, but “Daydream Nation” is undoubtedly a landmark work, a greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts collection of alternatively-tuned anthemic rock songs, housed in an iconic sleeve courtesy of the candles of Gerhard Richter

My one previous live Sonic Youth experience was extremely disappointing – a set of pretentious art-wankery & extreme self-indulgence at the Mogwai-curated All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in 2000, that most likely had the entire audience ticking it off as ‘worst gig of the year’. So I’m really hoping I don’t get burned again, but figure that this Don’t Look Back song-for-song recreation is a safe bet – after all, I know exactly what is going to be played! (not that the Don’t Look Back concept takes the fun out of gig-going – sure you know what is going to be played & in what sequence, but it is the observation of the music in a live context that truly brings it alive, and allows one to marvel at the insight into the how of its creation).

From the opening jangle of “Teen Age Riot” I know I’m in for a treat, and by that song’s end – which has Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo clashing their guitars like lightsabres while the feedback squalls around them – the goosebumps are in full force.

Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation @ the Roundhouse, London (30-08-2007)

The songs really rock, with seemingly more energy than the recorded versions – which makes sense as the band (all so comfortable with their instruments, effortlessly throwing out scorching riffs and striking rock-god poses without even trying) are feeding off the energy of the appreciative audience. When they launch into “‘Cross The Breeze” most of the crowd seem to jump for joy as one, all privately singing along with Kim Gordon: “Let’s go walking on the water / Now you think I’m Satan’s daughter…”

Fifth song in and I’m hit by the revelation that it’s Ranaldo’s vocal (and lyrics) on “Eric’s Trip” – something I’d never before thought about, always just assuming it was Thurston, the same going for “Hey Joni” and “Rain King” – but these are clearly Ranaldo’s songs, fleshed out with the precision pound of Steve Shelley and rapidfire riffs of Kim & Thurston. The band even recreate the musique concrete of “Providence”, Thurston manipulating a recording through a small guitar amp.

Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation @ the Roundhouse, London (30-08-2007)

Then the guitar-string-squeal opening of “The Wonder” leads us into the closing Trilogy of songs, “Hyperstation” being the evening’s slower-burning highlight and “Eliminator Jr.” (probably the ‘people’s favourite’ on the album) getting the crowd into one last headbanging frenzy.

The band do return for an encore of more recent songs closed off with a strangely out-of-tune “Schizophrenia” (my favourite SY song sadly not done justice this night), but this doesn’t add to the experience – the blissed out hour-and-a-quarter of “Daydream Nation” itself was all we needed to be sent out euphoric into the night.

Here is “‘Cross The Breeze“, recorded live at the Noise Now Festival in Düsseldorf, Germany on 27 March 1989 (and released on the Deluxe Edition re-issue of “Daydream Nation”):

Sonic Youth – ‘Cross The Breeze (live in Düsseldorf)

with thanks to amnoti for his writeup