Thurston Moore has been at the forefront of alternative rock since he started Sonic Youth in 1980, a band who turned an entire generation on to the value of experimentation in rock n’ roll.
Currently touring as The Thurston Moore Band, comprising guitarist James Sedwards, My Bloody Valentine’s Deb Googe and Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley, he released his latest album ‘The Best Day’ late last year on Matador Records, his first solo record since 2010’s ‘Demolished Thoughts’.
Radiating with both his signature dynamism of dense thrashing electric guitars as well as blissful acoustic ballads, it is a record defined by positivity and radical love.
When minor-deity Thurston Moore does duck face, he makes it cool. That’s because Thurston Moore is cooler than anyone you know.
So why is it so suspiciously easy to get to the front? The crowd are disturbingly well-behaved, and stand weirdly still as the two guitars howl and harmonise in front of Steve Shelley’s powerhouse of drums.
Moore is well-connected and respected and could have pretty much anyone he liked playing with him, but with this line-up he’s done exactly the right thing; he’s found people who play as an ensemble. No-one is showing off, they’re just doing exactly what they need to, and always working towards a common goal, which is the song. Bassist Deb Googe is pure punk, never even facing the audience, but pushing out a colossal amount of energy.
Moore and co-guitarist James Sedwards have a sort of duelling-banjos thing going on for a lot of the time, and then, when the two guitars come together, screaming in riotous harmony, it just WORKS.
I have honestly never seen guitars used in quite this way. Suddenly I can see both how and why recent album The Best Day works so well. Forevermore isn’t 15 minutes long because the band are noodling around indulgently – it’s 15 minutes long because that’s how long it takes to revisit this particular repetitive, percussive riff on the two guitars, and also put in all the builds and highs it needs. This is exactly what I want from live performance.
A pity, then, that so few others here seem to want the same thing. It really is a bizarrely tame crowd. Most of the front row are clearly too young to buy beer, and just look bored. I wonder what it takes to impress them? Someone they’ve heard of presumably, but in that case it’d be nice if they stepped back and let the oldies through. The band are clearly affected, but are professional enough to not let it affect the music.
At one point Moore tries to converse with us. About a dozen of us shout back. “Hmmm, tough crowd, eh?” he observes. And he’s right. This is a five-star performance, and a one-star audience. I feel ashamed to be a part of it.
Fourth song, and closer, Turn On is another demonstration of harmonising guitar noise. Four songs may sound short and breezy, but they fill their all-too-brief time. Gone are the gentle strings and acoustic melodies of the first two solo records and we’re firmly back in the territory of his famous first group (who I’m not mentioning; I’m reviewing the Thurston Moore Band!) This new Moore is pared down, raw, minimalist guitar rock, and he takes his time with each track, exploring new ways to build to orgasmic crescendos of noise and distortion.
When Moore sings “the king has come, to join the band” in second song Speak to the Wild, he might as well be talking about himself: a king of rock, coming to show us how it should be done.
I could watch this all day. I feel like I can bathe in this beautiful assault of noise. But the kids are getting restless. I wish I could see Moore in his natural environment, with a crowd who knew what they were witnessing. As it is I’ll just have to settle for one of the most virtuoso displays of musicianship in rock, and feel grateful. Which I do.