The evening starts a little weirdly. We arrive an hour before the gig to an already fairly well packed Phoenix bar. The audience is an oddly distilled demographic group, which Rod (the photographer) philosophically notes “looks a lot like the audience for All Tomorrow’s Parties”. For the first half hour I seem to be the only woman in the entire place, and certainly the only one not in a band shirt, but then I spot a mate at the bar and feel less conscious of my feminine status.
While I wander off to collect our passes, Rod decides to try and bag a few pre-gig shots in the green room with the band. It seems like we’re the only ones covering tonight, so it doesn’t feel like a massive imposition, but when he reaches the green room door Thurston gazes warily at him, spoon halfway to his mouth. In front of him is an enormous dish of steaming mashed potato, liberally doused in gravy. “Now is not a good time,” he replies guardedly before the question can even be asked. The other band members look up from their matching bowls of mash. No. Apparently now is not a good time. Now is evidentially 'Mash Time'.
The wall of sound that starts the gig warms the heart of every Sonic Youth fan there. Goodge on pumping bass and Sedwards and Moore, armed with one of his many beloved Jazzmasters, set the scene for the evening by producing a wall of ear-splitting sound that fills the entire auditorium, bringing equal parts joy and discomfort to everyone’s faces. The line-up may be different, but now we all understand that little else has changed and the presence of the Youth’s Steve Shelley – joyful and animated behind his kit – only serves to underline that feeling.
The set proper begins with what becomes evident is at the core of the sound for the new band. Sedwards and Moore playing in perfect synchronisation, building a fabulously authoritative structure that underpins many of the songs. ‘Evermore’, the first of the night, seems wonderfully familiar and afterwards we discuss how it feels like a later life sequel to ‘Sugar Kane’. For now we just enjoy the way it drives us along though, Goodge’s powerful bass line providing the perfect counterpoint to the vibrant twin guitar sound.
The rather joyful ‘Germs Burn’ comes next, the verses intercut with the kind of dirty chugging riff that sends those of us who play guitar to the front of the stage straining to see what pedals are in use. A brand new song – ‘Turn On’ – provides great opportunity for a guitar solo by the talented and charmingly melancholy Sedwards, then comes ‘Detonation’, a song Moore describes as ‘love song for Chelsea Manning’, the US soldier convicted for leaking confidential material relating to Afghani air strikes in 2013.
It’s comforting to realise then that – despite having reached the age at which most noise rockers buy a Subaru and starch only linen - Moore is still writing deliciously fresh, edgy lyrics and delivering them with an energy and raw passion that seems unaffected by the passing of time. Blistering through the remaining fifteen minutes of the set – the new song ‘Aphrodite’ and the lengthy and hugely complex but ultimately blissful ‘Grace Lake’ – he warmly engages with the audience, addressing one insistent setlist-heckler under his nose as ‘The Mayor’ before dedicating the last song of the night – the album title track ‘The Best Day’ – to him with an affectionate smile.
After the gig Rod and I wait what feels like an appropriate amount of time before slipping backstage to the green room again and attempting to engage the great man in a short Q&A. “Oh man, we just got off stage, we need some time to cool down.” I want to ask him why they eat mash before going on stage, is that a thing now? Should we all eat mash before a gig? Do the complex carbohydrates provide both energy and staying power? Moore towers over me, his shirt sticking damply to his ridiculously long lanky body. He frowns, “Who are you guys with again?” and peers at my backstage pass. I tell him and he frowns again, slightly less deeply, and takes a slug from his water bottle before shrugging - “Maybe a bit later guys.”
He smiles and pats me apologetically on the shoulder before, bowing his head to clear the door frame, he strolls off into the muggy dark. Steve Shelley smiles brightly at us both, and there is a long awkward silence in which Sedwards slowly eats a very small banana. Making a decision, Rod and I do that thing that only the English do, where you nod, smile, and simultaneously move backwards out of a room. Because although the mash may all be eaten, perhaps now is not such a good time either.
Speak To The Wild
(Encore) The Best Day
Review by Law Turley
Photography by Rhodri Cooper