If the Kool Haus ever needed a house band, a logical choice would be veteran New York art rockers Sonic Youth. The band's trademark blend of white noise and dissonance makes the perfect compliment to the venue's slate-heavy decorum. Maybe that's why during their last five visits to Toronto, Sonic Youth have ended up busting eardrums and pressing flesh at this venerable lakeside squat.
Touring in support of their recently released Sonic Nurse album, the Sonics coasted through a two hour, 15-song set that weighed heavily on new material with the odd wayward glance to the back catalogue. Lanky frontman Thurston Moore started the evening off with a drowsy run through "I Love You Golden Blue", an off-tempo number from the new disc. After a cloud of guitar squalor punctuated the song, the band ripped through a noxious version of "100%" from 1992's Dirty. As the first archived number of the evening , the crowd willingly convulsed as Moore haphazardly swung his guitar to the side and spewed his topical bile into the mic.
Moore's wife and bandmate, Kim Gordon, headed out front next and moaned her way through another track from the new album, "Pattern Recognition." Decked out in a cocktail dress and sensible heels, Gordon oozed the confidence of a gal who's been in the noise game for years as she played footsies with her effects pedals and gave the odd icy glare to the heated masses. Unsurprisingly, this song too erupted into multiples orgasms of pure, unadulterated hate. The newest Youth-er Jim O'Rourke laid his guitar on the stage floor and proceeding to grind at the strings using his shoes. Gordon pinned her bass up against the back amps and allowed the piece to effectively play itself out in an intense electrical frenzy. And not to be outdone, Moore deftly scaled one of the surrounding amps, guitar in hand, in what can only be described as a sub-Zionist rage.
Some calmer moments followed but these were almost always interrupted by additional flurries of sonic turbulence. Still, Sonic Youth appeared to be on autopilot for some of the Nurse material but if the crowd reaction to the new songs was any indication, the band has just added another solid notch to its repertoire. Even a guitar mix-up during the uber-title track "Dude Ranch Nurse" wasn't enough to quell this crowd. Two of the more surprisingly inclusions to the set were "Skip Tracer", a near beat poem sung by guitarist Lee Ranaldo that dates back to the band's 1995 album Washing Machine, and "Silver Rocket", a scorching guitar rocker from the band's landmark Daydream Nation double LP.
90 minutes and a first encore later, Sonic Youth returned to the stage once more for a stab at their traditional set closer "Expressway To Yr Skull." With Moore egging the crowd on to "kill the California boy', the band plateaued in a single phonetic burst before flatlining into ten plus minute of heart-wrenching feedback that was as much as measure of intestinal fortitude than anything else. What could have been a really dramatic conclusion was tarnished by the appearance of some jackass wearing a box on his head and subsequently, two rather portly gentlemen engaging in an impromptu catch-as-catch-can style wrestling match on stage. Yet even the appearance of a German shepherd a few minutes later couldn't lift the five members of Sonic Youth from their noise-induced psychosis. As Renaldo and O'Rourke put the finishing touches on the evening with a final few knocks to their instruments, the darkness soon lifted and what remained was a sea of battle-scared faces and soiled earplugs.
Writer: Cameron Gordon