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Sonic Youth rocks the Wiltern and gives a lesson in audio chaos

Today, the word "indie" can conjure up an array of mental pictures. These images may range from skinny jean-adorned hipsters sipping lattes at Silverlake coffee shops to the uber-hip, uber-un-mainstream pairing of Ben Gibbard and Zooey Deschanel. However, nearly three decades ago an unconventional "No Wave" band from New York named Sonic Youth began paving the way for independent, or "indie", music well before either of the aforementioned examples became synonymous with the word. As a result, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, Steve Shelley and Kim Gordon are now often, and deservingly, credited as being godfathers (and godmother) of the genre.

Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore makes some noise

On Saturday, January 9th, these post-punk icons invaded the Wiltern Theater to promote their 16th and latest release, the critically-acclaimed "The Eternal". Despite the fact Sonic Youth's name has become somewhat of a portrait of irony in recent years (the ages of the members now range from 47-56), they did not fail to live up to their reputation as one of the great American "noise rock" bands. As one might expect from the group, the concert was uniquely loud; a barrage of anarchic sounds pierced the ear drums for nearly an hour-and-a-half and left them ringing with delight even hours after the show had ended.

The song lineup was very much constructed to put the new record on full display. Tearing the set open with a rousing rendition of "No Way", the band frequently returned to "The Eternal" with live versions of "Poison Arrow", "Walkin Blue" and "Antenna". However, the blistering "Anti-Orgasm" proved to be arguably the highlight of the night. A trademark, feedback-laden guitar intro from Moore and Ranaldo along with Gordon's searing vocals and Shelley's frantic drum solo bounced a cacophony of noise off the Wiltern's 80-year old walls. The ear-splitting session succeeded in moving the masses of several generations of alternative rock fans. Chris Pine, Star Trek's dreamy new Captain Kirk, was even spotted rocking out on the floor as if being repeatedly gouged by a Klingon blade.

While a number of songs on "The Eternal" are more conventionally structured than their previous work, Sonic Youth often delved into characteristic improvised, chaotic jam sessions that were typically drawn out to five and six minutes. The band also made sure to intersperse favorites from their older catalog among the new material, pounding out "Hey Joni" from 1988's "Daydream Nation" album and bringing the second (and final) encore to an electrifying conclusion with "Shadow of a Doubt" from 1986's "EVOL".

There's something truly magnificent about the way these four now middle-aged rockers have been able to fuse melody with sheer aural pandemonium and call it music for nearly thirty years. In the 2007 hit "indie" film "Juno", the quirky title character flippantly refers to the group as "just noise". Well, based on Saturday night's performance, never has "just noise" sounded so uproariously beautiful. 


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