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Review: Thurston Moore – 14/10/19 – Riverside, Newcastle

22/10/2019

Thurston Moore is a pretty rare artist in that before they come on stage, it’s very hard to predict what they’ll be like. His sprawling back catalogue has lots of different modes to choose from: will he do a generous  ‘Hits’ set of Sonic Youth favourites? Not likely, but not impossible. A set of catchy new solo songs? Acoustic-led? Jazz? Unlistenable effects-pedal noise? 

These are all possibilities tonight, but unfortunately for me, he does something else, and it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. Moore lollops onstage through the crowd and puts on the Fender Jazzmaster which he seems naked without. He looks like a FaceApp-ed sixth-form boyfriend, tall and nonchalant, with long hair still over his face. The first groans of trickily-tuned guitar ring out, and I notice he hasn’t got a mic set up. That’s that, then. No Teenage Riot’s for you tonight, mon frère.

But this could still be good, as he might make a racket so unendurable and uncompromising, so lacking in hits and hooks and all things pleasant, that I end up crying and vomiting and thrilled. I spot Debbie Googe, bassist of My Bloody Valentine, a woman and band who in Manchester a few years ago made the loudest sound I have ever heard, in his band. This is a good sign.

I’m ready with my sick-bag, but I don’t need it. Instead, Moore and his band play a set of technically clever, sometimes fairly impressive ‘post-rock’, which is all completely listenable, but not in a good way.The titles don’t matter – it’s four or five songs, or one big one, and there are drone-y parts, half-riffs, waves of static, and – of course – a part where Moore plays the plinky bits of string on his headstock for ages. 

He loves those bits. My head bobs about to the rhythm of it at times, and I’m never left doubting the technical excellence and musicianship of any of the band, but…that’s not enough. None of it makes me do anything except appreciate it, and none of it gets my brain going beyond ‘I wonder what effects they are’.

A vibe of sorts is created – the songs go on long enough to bring the crowd to hushed, intense focus, and there are projections of nebulae and cells and things like that, but it’s a bit too polite, too comfortable. It’s like one of those Red Hot Chilli Peppers outro jams, if the bass-slapping Californians were replaced with some very good music lecturers.

Sonic Youth and their former members, at their best, can make fantastically smart-arsed rock music – visceral or challenging or instant when it needs to be, often audaciously combining pop with the avant-garde. When they’re not at their best, as is the case tonight, it can feel like pop without the hooks, ‘difficult’ music that seems much too easy. At times I wonder if I’m just too thick to get it, and maybe I am, but just because I’m thick doesn’t necessarily mean that this oddly unsatisfying set is all that clever. It’s not bad, and more’s the pity. 2/5

words: Jack Blenkinsopp

Photos: Lily Henderson

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