Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Album Review: Sonic Youth - Live in Brooklyn 2011

Sonic Youth
Live in Brooklyn 2011
**** out of *****

The final US show the fantastic Sonic Youth ever played is captured on this special release as the August 12th 2011 Williamsburg, NYC Waterfront set from the noise rock legends is now available on vinyl from Silver Current Records. 

Having attended this show, which at the time no one knew would be the bands last, there was a sense of something special in the air. The previous few years found the band revisiting past albums with strong shows, but this career ranging affair was unique and powerfully played. Lovingly captured here, this gorgeous night from the hometown band will now live on. 

The setlist was created by drummer Steve Shelley and as he explains it:
“This show was a culmination of a run of really special outdoor summertime shows in New York City for us, starting in ’92 with Summerstage in Central Park when we played with Sun Ra. For the Williamsburg Waterfront show I wrote out the set list to present to the band and it was a lot of material we hadn’t played in a while, a lot of deep cuts, so I wasn’t sure if everybody would feel like doing it. After worrying about which songs the band might say yes or no to, I threw those concerns out the window and I just made a list of songs that I thought would be a great set. We practiced the week of the show at our space in Hoboken and put the set together. First we’d try and make sure we had a guitar in the song’s tuning, then we’d try to remember the arrangement and try and put it together, sometimes re-learning bar by bar. In the end I think the whole song list made it through. Even as early as ’86 and ’87 we stopped playing ‘Death Valley 69’ and ‘Brave Men Run’ with any regularity. We’d just get excited about new material coming into the set and songs would get ‘retired’ and wouldn’t get played again for years. So on this particular night in Brooklyn a lot of those retired songs and deep cuts got dusted off and played for this show. It turned out to be a pretty special event with a really special song list.”
The band (Kim Gordon - voc, gtr Mark Ibold - Bass Thurston Moore - voc, gtr Lee Ranaldo - voc, gtr Steve Shelley - drums) tore into this old material right off the bat with that combo of "Brave Men Run (In My Family) > "Death Valley ’69" deploying scratchy layers of guitars, feedback, rumbling low end, and desperate vocals to recall the groups early noise days with passion and energy. 

Another old warhorse noise number "Kotton Krown" found Moore singing the prophetic words for this night, "New York City is forever, kitty I'm wasted in time and you're never ready Fading, fading, celebrating". Shelley puts his powerful drums to work with the head banging "Kill Yr. Idols" while Ranaldo gets the crowd revved up to go on "Eric's Trip". The muscle car guitars and motoring sounds continue for "Sacred Trickster", the cataclysmic "Calming The Snake", and the grooving "What We Know" all off of the bands final album (the underrated The Eternal), these were the newest song played on this evening, yet all fit in with the deep cuts/classics wonderfully.    

Speaking of deep cuts, "Starfield Road" is up next with crushing bass from Ibold, while the free jazz gets rolled out for the extended screeching and pounding of old school tunes "I Love Her All The Time" and "Ghost Bitch" from the early days of SY. The slow burn of "Tom Violence" builds with sexy power while the unhinged screaming guitars and Gordon's strong vocals slam on "Drunken Butterfly" ending the main set of tunes. 

The encores on this night were special as the group continued to delve into their past with feminist force of "Flower" and a rare "Psychic Heart" from Moore's solo career. Both were nice, but it was a gorgeous rendition of the band's "Sugar Kane" that really hit the sold out summer crowd squarely in the chest, the highlight of the whole night. 

Feeling extra giving the band returned for a second encore that saw them dig deep and unleash the chugging, noise rock blast of "Inhuman", ending the night, and basically their whole career, on loud clanging feedback, just the way these legends should.  

On a personal note, Sonic Youth are one of our all-time favorite acts, and  RtBE has owned an audience taped copy of this show since it happened, so the music is well loved to these ears. It is nice to now own a soundboard recording on vinyl, but it is also bitter sweet as the band was still kicking ass at such a high artistic level when they broke up. It is another reminder, like with the recently broken up Screaming Females, enjoy this amazing music live while you can. 

Support the artists, buy the album and peep some video below:

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