Sunday, August 14, 2011

Photos/Review: Sonic Youth @ Williamsburg Waterfront

Sonic Youth @ Williamsburg Waterfront - August 12, 2011

Photos: Chris / Review: Chris & Colin Fitzgerald

The past few outdoor shows I've been to have been plagued by bad weather (both Levon Helm and They Might Be Giants got me soaked in the rain), so heading over to the Williamsburg Waterfront Friday night on one of the sunniest days of the summer was quite satisfying. Knowing that the night ahead of me would be seeing one of the best lineups of the season only made it better.

Opener Kurt Vile, who has become a Thurston Moore protege of sorts recently, battled the blaring sun in his eyes with his band The Violators, playing a short thirty minute set to a half empty venue. I've listened to Vile's Childish Prodigy and Smoke Ring For My Halo a few times over the past year, and though I always remembered really liking what I was hearing, nothing has really stuck in my head. Not that Vile is going for catchy, hum-in-your-head-all-day songs. His music truly catches you in the moment with his visceral landscapes of sound, the kind of songs you play on the road late at night and picture yourself getting into a fatal car accident. Really sort of dark, yet beautiful reverberant droning songs that make you contemplative in a way that's rarely achieved in indie music today. A great way to start the night.

There was a lot of anticipation for supergroup Wild Flag, for me at least, since every time they've played around here I've missed them. And when I was at SXSW, they played something like seven shows, and of course I missed all of them. Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, both formerly of Sleater-Kinney, have not missed a beat since their most popular band went on hiatus. And Mary Timony of Helium is a seriously great frontwoman, often throwing her guitar around her body and doing rockstar poses with Brownstein throughout their thirty minute set. The band sounds like a mix of all their former bands, often sounding very much like Sleater-Kinney, but with a strong classic rock influence and overall emphasis on blaring guitar solos. Wild Flag have an album coming out on Merge Records on September 13, so be sure to preorder your copy. You can also listen to their excellent single "Future Crimes" on Spotify right now

At approximately 8:10pm, the famed headliners finally took the stage. Here's what Fucking Nostalgic contributor Colin Fitzgerald had to say about the amazing performance:

Sonic Youth
is still Sonic Youth. Thurston Moore is still Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon is still awesome. Somehow defying irrelevancy for decades, Sonic Youth was in top form Friday night, delivering an obscure, scattershot set full of jagged menace. The band took to the massive Williamsburg Waterfront stage just as the the sun went down and played for a little over an hour and a half, including 3 encores. The event itself could best be described as surreal. I was personally stunned and captivated by the amount of attitude they summoned.

The guitars burst hard-panned from either side of the stage like synchronized shotgun blasts, with the double bass guitars thundering from the center. As usual, Steve Shelley's drums were flawless, with tamborines routinely accelerating the propulsive grooves. You could argue that the most important element to SY's sound is their rhythm, and it was definitely showcased in their set Friday. As the set rolled on, the band became more and more talkative and personable with the crowd, culminating in Thurston's assertion that a giant rattlesnake head was going to emmerge from the waterfront he was staring out into to 'devour you all'. I couldn't help to see why the image would pop into his head. The band was like a giant, mighty rattlesnake uncoiling and striking with abandon.

As the night sky rapidly darkened, the band opened with "Brave Men Run (in My Family)" from 1985's Bad Moon Rising. Kim's voice was hypnotic and icy as she sang about "dreaming a sailor's dream at sea" and that "brave men run into the setting sun." Given the venue, the lyrics took on fitting relevance and set a stage for the surreal. One highlight for me was "Starfield Road," which found the band appearing to relearn the chords immediately before launching into it. Not only is it one of my favorite Sonic Youth songs, but it was so unexpected to me personally that it stuck out in an amazing set.

Watching Thurston Moore ditch the guitar and howl in rockstar pose on set-closer "Inhuman" was a definite highlight as well. Perhaps the best moment came when a crowd member tossed a ukelele to Lee Ronaldo on stage right before they came back onstage to play the song. After adjusting the mic, he played the ukelele, visibly straining his hands to shred on the tiny instrument. Of all the members, he seemed the most playful and upbeat with the audience.

Kim Gordon was the real star of the show, however. No disrespect to the other members, but whenever Kim took centerstage it drove home just why this band still continues to be one of the most important bands today. She is otherworldly cool and I can't imagine there has been a time where her voice sounded any better than it did on Friday. If Sonic Youth remains evergreen in the minds of fans, surely Kim Gordon is strongly to credit with keeping the band from being an ironic joke on their own name.

Best song: The Eternal's "What We Know"

Check out a full set of photos from all bands, as well as Kurt Vile and Sonic Youth's setlists, below. Also be sure to check out the Spotify playlist we made up for Sonic Youth's set if you haven't already...

Kurt Vile - Williamsburg Waterfront - August 12, 2011
Overnite Religion
Runner Ups
Jesus Fever
On Tour
Ghost Town

Sonic Youth - Williamsburg Waterfront - August 12, 2011
Brave Men Run (in My Family)
Death Valley '69
Kotton Krown
Kill Yr Idols
Eric's Trip
Sacred Trickster
Calming the Snake
Starfield Road 
I Love Her All the Time
Ghost Bitch
Tom Violence
What We Know
Drunken Butterfly

Encore 1:
Sugar Kane

Encore 2:
Psychic Hearts (Thurston Moore solo song)

Encore 3:


  1. Who runs this site... it's badass!

  2. YOU HEARD ME/ BOSS SQUIGGLEAugust 14, 2011 at 9:43 PM


    MY NAME: BOSS SQUIGGLE, say it twice.

  3. really enjoyed the sonic youth review & foto's, THX! wished i've been there.
    hello from amsterdam, wim jongedijk, sonic youth (veteran) fan since 1986

  4. sonic youth, your fucking amazing. love you bitches,and i mean that with love:)

  5. great write-up! i was at the show & you captured it perfectly. sonic youth continues to amaze me. and i definitely share your love for kim! i always look forward to watching her at their shows! and thanks for the set list too!

  6. Kurt Vile and Sonic Youth was such a good idea.