Written by Cal Cashin
The history of underground music has many great David’s, great Steve’s, and great Jack’s, but there is only one Thurston. Currently on the road to tour his latest record, Rock n Roll Consciousness, with The Thurston Moore Group, the seminal Sonic Youth guitarist took to the 100 Club for the first time in 30 years.
With former SY bandmate Steve Shelley on drums, James Sedwards on guitar, and Debbie Googe of My Bloody Valentine on bass, it was the perfect platform to exercise Thurston’s status as one of the musical underground’s greatest guitar heroes – and, not least, an opportunity for the audience to witness the group come together musically in an almost telepathic way.
A crashing set from North London hotshots Sorry, whose narcotic grunge set turned the Soho venue into an angsty nineties college prom. Fronted by the razor voiced Asha Lorenz, their scratchy, splintering guitar rock fittingly sounded like a mixture of Sonic Youth’s 1992 Dirty album and the lo-fi garage rock of the Black Lips.
Throughout the evening, Tim Burgess, the frontman of The Charlatans, and a driving force of British sub-culture played a genre splintering DJ set. Smashing down musical walls as only a man with his encyclopedic knowledge of music can. All with the dexterity, broad smile and easy grace that he brings to any event.
Thurston took to the stage to a chorus of excited fans, ranging from those that first saw him in the eighties on his first UK tours, to young fans who’ve been fortunate enough to stumble upon him in this new iteration.
The set was heavy with material from Rock n Roll Consciousness, an album which traditional song structures are tossed aside in favour of free forming guitar jams of the most psychedelic order. The superb live drumming of Steve Shelley aids this, as Moore’s rendition of Smoke of Dreams is dragged into dreamy euphoria via Shelley’s 4/4 motorik drumming. The interplay between Moore, and his other guitarist James Sedwards creates a thick wall of sound, especially on penultimate track Aphrodite, on which the most chaotic maelstrom of guitar feedback is bastardised into some kind of stomping rock ritual.
Whilst every song washes into one another, and the crowd interaction is sparse (at one juncture Thurston asked a fan which football team he supported, to which he replied, “music is my football team”), Moore is measured and untouchable. But don’t be fooled, the colossal soloing throughout the set, particularly on Smoke of Dreams, brings out the traditional rock pout. Some songs see the band blitz on and on, through sections of noise, krautrock and psychedelia, almost like a journey through the most psychotropic of forests; winding paths that occasionally discover beautiful, euphoric clearings.
No more is this apparent than on the barnstorming closer, Exalted. Dramatic changes of pace, of texture, and of sound, are abundant as heavy rocking riffs and noodly guitar licks are exchanged by Moore and Sedwards, whilst marauding basslines are laid down. Arguably the best song from Rock n Roll Consciousness, it boldly bashes its way through more genres than most artists cover throughout their career, perfecting them all as the New York native fizzes around the stage thrashing his instrument.
Thurston introduces the fifteen minute epic by simply saying: “we’ve got time for one more, better make it a short one.” A short, abstract summary, but a summary of Thurston’s effortless set, as even forty years into his career, he fearlessly does exactly as he pleases.