Thurston Moore @ Lola’s Room Sabertooth Fest 2-18-2018
Written by Ricardo Wang on February 15, 2018
Immediate full disclosure: I am not able to write a preview for Thurston Moore’s set Sunday night at Lola’s Room in The Crystal Ballroom headlining the Sabertooth Music Fest without getting ridiculously personal. If you find that type of thing distasteful, run away while you can.
I first saw Thurston Moore play in Sonic Youth in Seattle at a closed down porn theater turned all ages punk club called Gorilla Gardens in 1985. A lot of people, myself included, see the Gorilla Gardens as the birthplace of grunge, because it was a former two room movie theater that in it’s later incarnation booked two shows a night: a punk show and a metal show. One show in each room. This led to a cross pollination between the two scenes, which historically had been considered impossible to intermingle. Eventually this led to a lot of bands that had roots both in hardcore punk and hair metal. In fact Sonic Youth were opened for that night in the summer of ’85 by Green River, the truest godfathers of grunge, who would later splinter into Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone/Pearl Jam. At the time, Seattle’s “alternative” scene was aside from this mix of punk and metal, very preoccupied with looking UK “death rock” (what would in a couple few years be called “goth”). The crowd assembled in the club was pretty large and looked more like the audience at a Bauhaus show than a Sonic Youth one.
Sonic Youth came out acting like they were tuning their instruments before launching into a set that was essentially all of the album that has since become my favorite record of all time Bad Moon Rising, followed with a much noisier early version of “Expressway to Your Skull”. Pure feedback and dissonant tuned noise rock. The Batcave wanna-bes in the crowd were not yet ready for it, and Sonic Youth cleared the room. Oh, there were a handful of us left, maybe six total people with awe stricken looks on our faces mumbling stuff about “Best band in the world…” I ended the set with my face buried in Thurston’s monitor. I was 18 years old and had definitely found religion.
Sonic Youth, Bad Moon Rising promo photo 1985
I first saw Thurston Moore play solo ten years after that first SY show, in 1995 in, of all places, Ellensburg, Washington in a little record store owned by the parents of the Screaming Trees called (appropriately enough for the rodeo capital of the Pacific Northwest) Rodeo Records. Sonic Youth was on tour for their brilliant Washing Machine album doing opening spots for R.E.M. who were playing at the Gorge Ampitheater at the winery in nearby George, Washington. Thurston had just released his own album Psychic Hearts and so he did an 11 AM set with Steve Shelley on drums and Tim Foljahn on second guitar (the same lineup as Psychic Hearts).
My friend Patrick Barber from the Seattle noise band Blowhole was friends with Thurston and hipped me to the show, which was conveniently on the way to the SY gig. Thurston appeared to be literally waking up playing his guitar. There was no microphone and they didn’t mess with vocals, but instead did a single piece, a variation of “Elegy For All the Dead Rock Stars” from the album that surpassed the 20 minute running time on the record. Absolute hypnotic bliss.
Thurston Moore in 2007 at the Doug Fir Lounge
I’ve seen Sonic Youth enough times to lose count and get confused when I try to go over the shows in my head. About 30, including 2 or 3 shows at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland where Thurston is playing Sunday night (though never in the smaller downstairs Lola’s Room his band will be in). I’ve seen Thurston solo 3 or 4 times as well (including Chelsea Light Moving who really just seems a Thurston solo record at this point.) I’ve seen him play songs with words, instrumental noise, solos with drumsticks in the frets, and pretty acoustic guitar songs…
The only time I have ever been disappointed by a set he was involved with was the unfortunate pairing between him and Jandek in Portland in 2009. I had seen Jandek’s one other Portland show and been blown away, so I had imagined that two of my favorite musicians could do no wrong together. Sadly they could do no together at all. Jandek had no mic and instrumentally hit basically one note, not particularly out of minimalism so much as out of frustration at the lack of connection. Thurston filled the gaps with some of the tropes of his own guitar style and it just accentuated that this was not a unified piece they were improvising. But the greatest artists take risks that leave them flat on their faces sometimes…
Chelsea Light Moving at Doug Fir Lounge 2013
Am I excited to see Thurston play this festival with this band? Why yes, yes I am. Do I think you should go if tickets are still available as you read this, why yes, you should. In fact if it sells out and you don’t get a ticket you should go try anyway. When Sonic Youth played the Crystal on the Sonic Nurse tour (the last tour with Jim ‘O Rourke in the band) I waited to buy a ticket and it sold out.
I was outside the show, just about to pay a really skeazy scalper an extra ten bucks for a ticket when a complete stranger walked up and handed me two tickets for free. The scalper was totally bummed, but otherwise a very happy turn of events. So you should always try and be pure about your desire to go. I did mention Sonic Youth is a bit of a religious thing with me, didn’t I. I mean, I have faith they are going to come back…
Sonic Youth at Roseland 2009
But I digress, Thurston solo set Sunday night… If you haven’t already dug deeply into his last album Rock ‘N Roll Consciousness, you should.
I’m going to go out on a not so shaky limb and say it’s his best solo record since Psychic Hearts. The songs are very fully realized and the playing very much has the effect of making the listener want to watch them bash it out live. The end of a psych rock festival at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland OR seems a very good place to test that out.