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Sonic Youth @ The Wiltern Theater 1/9/10

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At this point in their career, Sonic Youth present a paradox: they’re radicals that are also reliable entertainers. However far out they might go, they eventually come back to something that sounds vaguely like 1987’s “Schizophrenia”: fast, strummy guitar lines, a hazy vocal track, a driving rhythm section, harmonies twisting like vines, a colossal racket wrapped around a deceptively catchy tune that threatens to explode at any moment. The intent is to expand the number of possibilities - see their “serious music” side projects for an example of how far they’re willing to go in this pursuit - but truthfully, they’re not that far off from AC/DC when you look at the big picture.

There are differences when you get down to specifics. Angus Young doesn’t cover John Cage in his spare time. Thurston Moore has yet to ride a prop Silver Rocket over the audience’s heads (although that would be cool). And in terms of living in the past, AC/DC did maybe four songs off their current album when last in town, which is what was expected. Sonic Youth reversed that ratio and played maybe six old songs in a similar-length show, spending most of the time pummeling through the near-entirety of their 2008 release The Eternal, which is also more or less what was expected. Most of the time, an SY show is as good as the album they’re plugging at the moment, “greatest hits” revues aren’t really their thing. For that matter, I wonder if any two people could ever agree on what exactly their five or ten greatest hits actually are. They’re more about a sound and a vibe than a particular repertoire. Even while forcing the focus onto their recent music, they give the people what they came to see.