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SY's First Official Live Album's One for the Books
Posted by: Parkas4Kids from: Dundalk, MD on
It was October 14, 1987, and Sonic Youth was playing the Cabaret Metro in Chicago, IL. The band's most recent album, "Sister," had been out for roughly four months, and they'd been touring the album pretty heavily. Of the ten songs on "Sister," only one song didn't make its way into their setlist: "Hot Wire My Heart," which was a cover of a Crime song. The rest of the album was played with the addition of "Tom Violence" and "Expressway to Yr. Skull" from EVOL and "Death Valley '69." And, in keeping with their NYC roots, they closed with a few Ramones covers (perhaps to make up for not including "Hot Wire My Heart" in the setlist).
If you're a fan of Sonic Youth or of the no wave movement in general, you should already have this album. "Sister" was the last album the band released through SST, the legendary independent punk label based in (then) L.A., and in nine months the band would begin recording their magnum opus "Daydream Nation." They were at the top of their game and headed into the '90s when punk would finally break out of the underground. Though always on the fringe, Sonic Youth was one of the many bands instrumental in the alternative movement that exploded with the release of Nirvana's "Nevermind" and, for all intents and purposes, has never really died down. And while alternative music isn't what it used to be, nothing ever is; all music evolves over time, and alternative is no exception.
The problem when listening to any live Sonic Youth recording is understanding that no venue is designed with them in mind. If Spinal Tap turned their amps up to 11, Sonic Youth turns their up to AT LEAST 13. Their multi-layered guitar assault is best played at a high volume level so you can experience the performance both physically as well as aurally. Though I've listened to a large amount of Sonic Youth's discography, I've not had the pleasure of hearing either "EVOL" or "Sister." I do, however, own "Hits Are for Squares," which features "Tom Violence," Tuff Gnarl," and "Expressway to Yr. Skull," and the live recordings here blow those studio versions to dust. I can only imagine the rest can be said of the other studio tracks featured on the setlist.
The Ramones covers are a lovely bookend to an already amazing live performance. And, in atypical Sonic Youth fashion, they play them in much the same way the Ramones would have performed the songs. Very little of the standard Sonic Youth flair is to be found in these four songs, almost as if a certain degree of reverence is being given to the godfathers of punk. Needless to say, it's not hard to imagine Johnny Ramone standing on the stage ripping into these classics alongside Thurston and Lee.
If you have yet to be initiated into the wild and crazy world of Sonic Youth--particularly the early, indie days--do yourself a favor and buy this album. As I mentioned above, I've never been able to get my hands on a decent copy of "Sister," and now I possibly never will. There are bands that were made for the studio and bands that were made for the stage...and Sonic Youth was made for the stage.
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