Sonic Youth: Smart Bar – Chicago 1985
I’m not sure even where to start with this review. I don’t know how to write about a band like Sonic Youth. Where do you begin? I’m still pretty new to them; I’ve just recently started listening to their stuff after years of putting it off. But, I did see them at a free show a couple of years ago in Prospect Park (VIP!!) and it nearly blew my face off. They were so awesomely powerful and vigorous, that despite the fact that they’ve been playing together for over 30 years, they sounded so fresh and relevant. And I was just so impressed with how tuneful the songs were, being the newb that I was. But, their discography is pretty large, so I guess I’ll begin here.
If you’re not familiar with their stuff, this album may not be your thing. Being that it’s live, there’s a ton of sonic exploration and the vocal levels are not great (and sometimes off-key), which doesn’t really give it a top-notch feel, but the dexterity is solid and the guitars sound like behemoths. More than anything it epitomizes the DIY sensibility that they’re famous for and harnesses the frenzy of the show. Also, what’s really intriguing is the continuity of it all–there’s hardly a break throughout the entire show, which is, I think, less common with noise-rock bands. Regardless, I still skip the first track, “Hallowe’en,” because it’s essentially just noise and the momentum hasn’t been built to sustain the energy. But it leads into “Death Valley ‘69,” which is a volcanic storm of commotion that erupts slowly into a real burner that fades contiguously into “Intro/Brave Men Run (In My Family),” and the discordance carries on from there. My favorite song is “Kat ‘n’ Hat” because it has a real moody tone of menace that ebbs and flows well and is just very tuneful and less abrasive. From there it’d be difficult to breakdown each song because there are so many elements to each one and I lack the colorful adjectives to make it interesting without rehashing the same cliches.
The thing with Sonic Youth is that you have to be prepared to listen to them. It’s such an assault that it literally takes something out of you and repeated listens (for me) can be exasperating. I’m probably on listen number six as I type this and I’m looking forward to finishing so I can turn it off and take a break. But I need to keep listening because there’s so much here to take in. If I attempt to describe it while I’m not, I miss too much and the words escape me as I try to illustrate what I’m feeling. There’s a lot to process and you need to actively listen to properly appreciate the work as a whole, and with SY that’s a pursuit. A worthy one.