Urban Outfitters in Santa Monica, July 21
Walking through Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, on my way to see Sonic Youth perform at Urban Outfitters, sponsored by Toyota’s Free Yr Radio campaign in support of KXLU . . . this shit’s enough to make your head spin. On this day, corporate American commercialism shored up L.A.’s bastion of indie/college radio and infused with cash one of the best bands ever to arise from the NYC post-punk/no-wave/art scene. As Henry Rollins recently opined on his IFC show, bands like this deserve the cash and the exposure they’re getting by placing songs in ads. But it’s more than a little disconcerting to hear the KXLU program director shilling for the Yaris while introducing the show. (“Sign up for the giveaway! They’re really cool!”) Anyway, it’s Sonic Youth, I’m pissed because I missed their performance of Daydream Nation at the Greek the night before, and it’s a free concert for the lucky kids who show up early enough to snag wristbands.
After a typically baffling and hip-shaking DJ set from Dntel, who believes that Afrobeat, blip-hop, skronk-noise and frenetic techno can be seamlessly blended together, Sonic Youth bounded out on stage led by mop-topped Thurston Moore (decked out in a nice, very adult, very Urban Outfitters pale blue button-up shirt, by the way). Though the set was supposed to draw from S.Y.’s entire catalogue, the band drew heavily from their most recent album, Rather Ripped (their version of adult contemporary?). Confusion Is Sex’s tribal “The World Looks Red” started things off, though, as the foursome, augmented by Mark Ibold (ex-Pavement) on bass, made the “Frankie Says Relax” T-shirt rack quake. Moore, using a drumstick to rake against his guitar neck, created a noise both perfectly chaotic and discordant. The Youth’s ’90s semi-hit, “Bull in the Heather,” followed. It was a good choice for this crowd, some of whom were probably born around the time Daydream Nation came out, while others were obviously of legal drinking age on its day of release. From there, Rather Ripped reigned, with choice cuts such as “Do You Believe in Rapture?,” “Reena,” “What a Waste” and “Incinerate” blasting the crowd. Kim Gordon, still a Nico-esque punk rock goddess, practically stole the show, shimmying like a bizarro-world go-go dancer. And Steve Shelley, one of rock’s most underrated drummers, once again laid down his hyperprecise beats, the glue that holds the whole noisy mess together.
After a brief encore, Sonic Youth faded back into the nether regions of the store. People like me need to just get over it and realize that it’s people like me who now work for Toyota, VW and Target, and our intentions are mostly good in helping to get our indie heroes some well-deserved cash. I’ll just keep pumping Sister in my Subaru as I head off to buy another franchise-approved latte.
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