‘Rock n Roll Consciousness’ 2017 album tour from Thurston Moore brags an unshakeable line up of My Bloody Valentine’s Debbie Googe on bass, Nought’s James Sedwards on second guitar, and long term friend and Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley holding down the kit.
We wander prematurely into an already busy Colston Hall and as I look around I am taken a back at the crowd forming around us, turns out the woman who sang ‘let it go’ in the hit kids film Frozen is playing next door. Once the flock of vertically challenged princesses packing the foyer disperses, the crowd left were what previously I had pictured, band t-shirt clad and a mix of strong fringes, long locks and bald spots. It is now about time to head up the stairs to one of the concert halls smaller gig spaces ‘the lantern’, after already causing a bit of a stir by leaving the cameras tripod unattended momentarily, resulting in a minor bomb scare.
Me and photographer Rob Glanville, are a couple of the first into the venue and find our selves a strong vantage point for the evenings viewing. Other early arrivals form the front row marking there spots by sitting down cross legged on the working mens club style carpet that lays beneath my feet. Vast plumes spit out of the smoke machine and fog the cold blue lighting that floods the empty stage. The room is slowly filling but before it is anywhere near capacity, support band ‘The Es’ take to the stage.
The all female four piece walk on and plug in with barely a glance at the audience, the lead singer takes the mic in her hand to introduce the band with the words “Hello, we are bristol, I mean you are, or whatever, this is our first song”. The first song kicks with a harsh flex of purposefully sloshy drumming, whining guitar and siouxie sioux style shrieks. The vocalist thrashes forward and back clasping the hem of her dress in a Ari Up-esque, palpable tantrum like performance, harnessing a malevolence to her patter. ‘The Es’ feel like the perfect warm up for what is about to happen.
After a short break, the not so youthful but certainly sonic Thurston is first on, copping a ripple of cheers and applause, followed by silence. He quirkily approaches the microphone with a sideways smile and says 'talk amongst yourselves'. His jokes and chuckles come unexpected in comparison to the standard avant-garde art rock persona. ‘Cease Fire’ is the first song, a commentary on gun violence, which seems a little like a potential attempted recapturing of the glory days of ‘Daydream Nation’. It is lacking the post punk intensity but it is clear Moores grip on melodic composition has not wained. Oddly this track does not make it onto the album. Sedwards and Googe hold a much sterner and more rigid form on stage particularly in comparison to Moores prominent floaty, head in the clouds character.
Next up is ‘turn on’, followed by a howling feedback jam of divine monotony and dissonant squeals. This displays how much of a worthy and useful guitar counterpart Sedwards is to Moore as they weave around each others stringed strengths. Sedwards fret work and rumbling heavy Led Zepplin like power chords, which when Moore comes back to the forefront with meandering fuzzy solos, drift feathered into the background. ‘Speak to the wild’ from 2014 album ‘the best day’ is a transportation to the realm of the lost. The toe tapping rhythmic riff, which is particularly recognisable from past work from Moore, accompanies call and response harmonics through out the song, the lyrics are written from a fathers point of view and are held up gracefully by the musical architecture the band create. A visual symmetry devlops, rhythm and bass stare intently at what there hands are doing and populate centre stage, while the guitars stand prominently on opposite wings gazing upon the audience. Sedwards whammy bar heavy and gruff composure only exaggerates Moores stretched physique as he puffs hair out of his eyes between lines.
The Lou Reed-sounding ‘Smoke of dreams’ starts with a single guitar playing an understated and wiry riff with a wistful vocal line to match. It feels like a journey of melancholy through Moores past as the song slowly expands, driven along by Shellys steady sticks, until the end where it returns to the subdued shell, where you can hardly work out what he is singing, but none the less sends a shiver down your spine. This proceeded to ‘Aphrodite’ with words written by Moores friend, trans poet and activist Radieux Radio. The band leave the stage to as rapturous as an applause gets from this assemblage of beard twitching rockers. They of course return for a feedback explosion of an encore which satisfies any final pang the crowd had for a last bang.
Thurston Moore has proven countless times that he is an irremovable musical troubadour and force of compositional and improvisational nature. Transcendental genius or just a good rock band, maybe a bit of both.
Speak to the wild
Smoke of dreams
Ono soul (encore)
Words by Raph Persighetti
Pictures by Rob Glanville