Review and photographs by Kirsten Ferguson
A show featuring Thurston Moore could potentially go in a few different directions. As much as Sonic Youth – his band of over 30 years – melds straight-forward pop with dissonant, sprawling guitar rock, Moore’s solo work can find him embracing his melodic side or indulging in free-form noise experimentation.
At Club Helsinki, where Moore and his band were largely showcasing songs from his great recent solo album – the Beck-produced, acoustic “Demolished Thoughts” – the melodic side was fully in the house. The album itself is wistful and introspective, in a way that strikes a chord on a gray late winter day, while interesting layers of chamber folk instrumentation from harp and violin add to the moody appeal.
Opener Josh Burkett, who runs Mystery Train Records in Amherst, Massachusetts, established the evening’s relatively mellow mood early on. With head bowed, he strummed a set of ruminative, mostly instrumental guitar over the subtle din of clashing silverware as seated Club Helsinki patrons wrapped up their meals.
When Moore arrived onstage with an acoustic 12-string guitar, it appeared he had even dressed for a more serious occasion, looking as professorial as rock and roll gets in a jacket, tie, button-down and sneakers. Harpist Mary Lattimore and violinist Samara Lubelski – responsible for the graceful string flourishes on “Demolished Thoughts” – were with him, as were drummer John Moloney and guitarist Keith Wood.
They opened with the atmospheric “Mina Loy,” a frustrated love song from the latest album that features brooding interplay among violin, harp and guitar and Moore’s vivid lyrics: “Found a diamond in the gutter, on an early morning freeze.”
Without reading too much into things (we all know Moore and his Sonic Youth bandmate/wife Kim Gordon broke up, right?), it was a bit hard not to interpret the first three songs of the night as a triptych to forgone romance. “In Silver Rain with a Paper Key,” a faraway, dreamy tune with a sad lament to a lost lover was followed by the friendship-pledging “Fri/end” from Moore’s previous “Trees Outside the Academy” solo album.
Interspersed between the songs, Moore read brief bits of cryptic poetry without explanation. One riffed on a writer who walks through a glass window; another contained the line, “Hashish on a punk pin.”
The night wasn’t without some full-blown rock moments, though. “Circulation,” a new song that sounds like vintage “Daydream Nation”-era Sonic Youth but with violin replacing wailing guitar, swelled at the end into a dissonant freak-out of strings and guitar. And “Ono Soul,” from Moore’s 1995 solo album “Psychic Hearts” erupted in a huge cacophony of noise before immediately shifting back to quiet.
“This is a song by Slayer,” Moore said, kidding, before the set’s last song, “Psychic Hearts.” He removed his jacket, untucked his sweaty shirt, folded his tie and handed it off to the drummer. It’s one of Moore’s best songs, and next to Sonic Youth’s “Teen Age Riot,” one of the best teen rebellion anthems written: “I know you had a fucked up life, growing up in a stupid town. Your mother was a mixed-up jerk, and your father he just fucked around.”
“Here’s to the night,” Moore announced after requesting a gin and tonic from the bar and closing the show with a trio of “Psychic Hearts” songs: “Pretty Bad,” which morphed into “See-Through Playmate” and “Feathers.”
Julia Zave’s photograph at Metroland