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Thirsty For Moore?

October 30, 2007

Sonic Youth guitarist and songwriter Thurston Moore doesn't look like he's pushing 50. Floppy-haired and dressed in sloppy jeans, sneakers and a couple of layered T-shirts for last night's gig at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall, Rolling Stone Magazine's "33rd Best Guitarist in Music History" looked and acted like an undergraduate jamming with some buddies in a suburban garage.

There was, however, nothing jam session-like about the music itself, which was performed with autocratic precision by Moore (on vocals and electric/acoustic guitars) and his four-piece band (which included Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, violinist Samara Lubelski, Christopher Brokaw on guitar, and bassist Matt Heyner.) Moore's music and method is about the whole. The individual parts don't mean much. It's a bit of a cliche to say this, but the band comes about as close to building a wall of sound together as I've ever heard. And the Fuhrer-like Moore is the architect.

The controled solidity of the sound produced by Moore and his fellow garage-riffers might paradoxically be its chief weakness. In this concert, violinist Lubelski couldn't be heard at all above the rock instruments' din -- despite the largely acoustic nature of the set. Moore didn't give the poor player a single opportunity to show off what she could do. Forget violin breaks. Lubelski wasn't so much as allowed to deviate from long, held notes that blended seamlessly into the mix. If the rest of the band provided the bricks for this wall of sound, then Lubelski's contribution was squished mortar. The same could also be said of vocalist Christina Carter, who shuffled on for five minutes to sing a "duet" with Moore. Carter wasn't allowed to sing on her own or even to create harmonies. Moore and Carter blurted out the melody in unison and Carter's, being the softer of the two voices, was almost drowned out. The effect was drab. What's the point of including a violin and guest vocalist if you don't allow them to do anything?

Despite Moore's control-freak tendencies, sporadic glimpses of genius occasionally wafted out of the unfurling smoke-signal of sound like smoked "O's." For a room packed with head nodders, Moore's Constructivist guitar licks, introverted style and urban wordplay provide the quickest route to heaven (or at least, Nirvana.) I didn't personally travel that far, though Moore's set did transport me occasionally skywards.

This is more than I can say for the opening act, which featured Carter and Heather Murray performing duets under the moniker Scorces. For the first ten minutes or so of their set, the womens' dissonant, high-pitched "ahs" and "ohs" coupled with feedback, slide and pedal-intoxicated guitars made me feel like I was endlessly falling. Or perhaps like I was being crashed onto a shore by enormous waves. Or maybe like I was listening to whale song. But after this period of time, the noise became boring and very soon thereafter, excruciatingly painful. My husband echoed my sentiments when he said that Scorces' sound art reminded him of someone "trying to pass a pineapple."

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