One more reason to hate tennis (as if you needed another one): Last September, the veteran experimental rockers of Sonic Youth announced they would be cancelling the remainder of the dates on their West Coast tour, including a gig at Santa Barbara’s own Arlington Theatre. With any other storied band, you might suspect that an overdose, a series of scandalous photos, an impending divorce or trouble with the law… But with Sonic Youth, it turns out lead guitarist Lee Ranaldo had sprained his wrist playing my mother’s favorite sport. How rock ‘n’ roll is that?
Of course, Sonic Youth has always been a band more reliant on its staggering musical talent than histrionic public displays or flashy set pieces, as last Saturday’s rescheduled show at the Wiltern showed (because Santa Barbara was nixed from the rescheduled dates, I caught the band in L.A.). The five-piece band was in top form, blasting through its set in hyper speed before an enthusiastic (and often near-geriatric) audience. Hipsters of all generations were treated to an impeccable set list comprised of some of the best tracks off 1988’s classic Daydream Nation, as well as almost all of the songs from last year’s The Eternal, which will prove to be anything but a minor work from this stellar band.
The band’s ethereal wall of sound, replete with echoing, booming feedback, mingled beautifully with its forays into pop melodies, entrancing the audience. The entire performance seemed to almost bleed together, with all the songs meshing like the perfect record.
Band members Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Steve Shelley, Ranaldo and Mark Ibold work together flawlessly after almost 30 years together as a band and still manage to challenge one another enough to continue putting out relevant albums. Their energy on delivering songs like “Hey Joni” and “Poison Arrow” Saturday night would put many bands half their age to shame.
When the band came back onstage after a loud, frenzied demand from the audience for a (second!) encore, the group ended the night blazing through the 1985 single, “Death Valley ’69” (a personal favorite of mine). Here’s hoping they make it to Santa Barbara sometime soon — and begging Ranaldo to leave tennis to the professionals.