By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — An influential player on New York City’s experimental no wave/post-punk scene and founder of the band Sonic Youth, guitarist Thurston Moore brings his current all-star group to the Chapel Monday night.
Moore’s music career began after he dropped out of college at Western Connecticut State University after one quarter in 1976, moving to the East Village in Manhattan to immerse himself the in city’s burgeoning experimental music scene. Moore would end up playing in the punk band Even Worse and the Coachmen prior to starting the more avant-garde group Sonic Youth in 1981 with girlfriend and future wife Kim Gordon with second guitarist Lee Renaldo joining soon afterwards.
Mixing elements drawn from the dissonant downtown improv/free jazz scene and composer Glen Branca’s microtonal guitar ensembles (both Ranaldo and Moore would play under his direction) with droning, propulsive post-punk, Sonic Youth developed a unique sound built around unorthodox tunings and treated guitars with drum sticks and screwdrivers in the strings. After releasing its first self-titled EP on Branca’s Neutral label, the band became a cornerstone to the NYC noise-rock movement alongside Swans, who the group shared rehearsal space with and supported on several early tours, and James Chance and the Contortions.
Sonic Youth would move on to recording for Moore’s own Ecstatic Peace imprint (the live compilation Sonic Death: Early Sonic 1981-1983) and Homestead Records (1985’s Bad Moon Rising) before finally landing on SST Records for the critically acclaimed EVOL the following year, its first effort with new drummer Steve Shelley. That effort found the band tempering the noise of past releases with more pop sensibility while still maintaining its experimental approach, a shift that would continue on subsequent releases Sister and Sonic Youth’s landmark 1988 double album Daydream Nation.
Earning the group’s the best reviews of its career, Daydream Nation significantly raised Sonic Youth’s profile and led to a major label deal with Geffen Records. The follow-up debut for the label Goo in 1990 scored the band MTV airplay with the hit “Kool Thing” (featuring Chuck D of Public Enemy) and broke Sonic Youth to a much wider audience. The quartet spent the decade as one of the most influential alternative rock outfits on the planet, starring in the documentary The Year Punk Broke and serving as headliners for the 1996 Lollapalooza Tour. Moore also was active outside the band, releasing his first solo album in 1995, starting several side projects like Dim Stars and collaborating with a wide range of experimental artists like saxophonist John Zorn, vocalist Yoko Ono and turntable artists Christian Marclay and DJ Spooky.
Sonic Youth maintained its stature as leading lights alternative music into the 2000s until the split between Moore and Gordon led to an indefinite hiatus for the band starting in 2011. Moore would continue his prolific output as a solo artist, working with Beck Hansen on his 2011 album Demolished Thoughts before putting together his current group with British guitarist James Sedwards, My Bloody Valentine bassist Deb Googe and Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley for The Best Day in 2014.
The band’s celebrated 2017 release Rock n Roll Consciousness showed the quartet flirting with longer tracks, but Moore’s latest recording dives headlong into extended instrumental compositions. Featuring an expanded line-up with SF electronics artist Jon Liedecker (who also works with Negativeland and Matmos) and third guitarist Jen Chochinov, the box set Spirit Counsel includes three songs clocking in between 30 minutes and over an hour.
The opening track “Alice Moki Jayne” pays tribute to musician Alice Coltrane, Swedish visual artist Moki Cherry and poet Jayne Cortez (the wives of John Coltrane, Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman, respectively) in a hypnotic swirl of guitars that builds from meditative to frenetic, echoing the spiritual work of both Alice and John Coltrane as well as the quieter side of the ’70s Miles Davis classic Get Up With It. Moore and his current group perform songs from the ambitious release when they come to the Chapel in San Francisco Monday night.
Thurston Moore Group
Monday, Dec. 16, 7 p.m. $25