Thurston Moore works out old ghosts with acoustics and noise
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
The Somerville Theatre is as intimate a venue as the greater Boston area has to offer, its small orchestra seating section augmented by a steep balcony that leaves the entire audience feeling just an arm’s reach from the stage.
It was also, as Thurston Moore pointed out midway through his show Tuesday night, the backdrop to perhaps his worst moment as a live performer. As he told the crowd, he freaked out in the middle of a 1988 Sonic Youth gig, threw his guitar down, “left the building, stormed out, went into the van, pulled on my parka, pulled the hood over and zipped it up, and then locked the doors and just stayed there. And the rest of the band finished the gig.”
For Moore, touring a set based heavily in his most recent record, Demolished Thoughts, and featuring older solo songs rearranged for the acoustic band, the theater couldn’t have been a more appropriate setting to exorcise the demons of that failed gig from more than 20 years before.
Augmented by a second guitar, drums, violin and a harp, Moore took full advantage of the versatility and mischievous spirit of the band in expanding the sound of those songs, alternating them with bits of poetry and stories, interacting with the crowd with a sense of timing of a road-tested pro, belying his age-defying youthful looks.
Outside of Sonic Youth, Moore is taking full advantage of his new setting. “Blood Never Lies” set the tone for the evening, with the strums of his 12-string guitar casting a gentle spell on the building. The words dripped out through the speakers, with the music filling in to collect the spillage.
But Moore was, and perhaps still is, the creative face of Sonic Youth, a band that helped bring noise and art to the forefront of the alternative music scene, exposing many music fans to a DIY-drenched scene to which they might not have been otherwise exposed. He made his name dragging sounds out of tortured guitars, and there were a few communications to that end.
An apex was reached in the midsts of “Ono Soul,” a song I first encountered as a confused teenager watching MTV’s 120 Minutes in the mid-1990s. Adapted to the acoustic environment of the evening, the tune worked well, Moore’s ode to Yoko given room to breathe in the air of the old movie theatre.
All elements of delicacy were burned without warning, however, with a foot tap of Moore’s stomp box. Suddenly, it was a 1940 blitzkrieg, just chaotic sound, distortion, howls and aural bombs. For at least three minutes, this unholy wall of noise was screaming out of the house PA and the stage amps, with Moore holding his acoustic high above his head, waving it down towards his amp, on his knees, sacrificing the wooden instrument, which likely had no idea what it was in for before reaching his hands.
It continued, with Moore working the strap back around his neck, settling the instrument around his waist and, then, another simple tap, and he was plucking the gentle melody off its strings.
Just a reminder of the power of noise, a simple exercise from the modern master of cacophony and a reminder that, acoustic or not, Moore is able to bow down to the queen of noise, willing to pay his respects at a moment’s notice, and exorcise demons of old gigs gone wrong.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org