Islington Assembly Hall, London
7 November 2014
Sonic who? Asks Louder Than War’s Paul Margree as Thurston Moore and his band rock north London’s Islington Assembly Hall.
For his most recent album, The Best Day, ex-Sonic Youth lynchpin and underground rock maven Thurston Moore navigates a slowly winding path between the liquid sprawl that characterised his former band’s late work and the brash art-yob yowl of his post-breakup Chelsea Light Moving formation.
The album’s eight songs are characterised by their mid-tempo chug, courtesy of his old sticksman Steve Shelley and My Bloody Valentine bassist Deb Googe. Together they lay down a sold rhythmic grid over which Moore and James Sedwards knit together a fuzzy guitar melt.
The result is a kind of inverted Klaus Dinger motorik beat, its komische flight turned inwards, replacing the gleaming Audi on the autobahn surging into an optimistic future with a rusty steamer slowly charting its way up river. Its Apocalypse Now crossed with The African Queen, Kurtz meets Bogart in a steampunk odyssey through the doors of perception and into the humid rainforest of the psyche.
But while The Best Day album is a perfect accompaniment to a pot of earl grey and a smoke of a winter’s evening, I’m unsure whether its extended frugs will cut it live. I’m comforted, however by positive reports of the band’s debut, just round the corner from Moore’s gaff, at Dalston’s none-more-avant Café Oto, at the end of the summer. “The current Thurston Moore band is super-duper good,” says a chum who was there, which gladdens my cockles somewhat.
He’s right. The band are good, able to build immersive textures of molten drift, balanced by an intuitive sense of when to reign it in and keep things tight and rocking during an hour or so set that focuses almost exclusively on The Best Day, save a dip into Moore’s solo back catalogue for the encore.
Detonation, Moore’s ode to 1970s anarchist group the Angry Brigade is a scoured beast, his cutup lyrics splattering over its ragged dissonance. There’s even a guitar solo, on title track The Best Day, rendered not perfect by Sedwards’ implacable psych-mod presence. Strategically placed late in the set, its rock cheesiness is perfect, cutting through the intricate pick and strum that preceded it like a double espresso after a three-course meal.
Anyone who has seen Moore perform in any of his previous configurations will know that he never exactly sets the place on fire with his repartee, and he’s amiably aloof here too, towering over the rest of the group in a shirt fresh out of the packet, fold lines still visible. He’s got charisma though, his overgrown school kid goofiness matched by his obvious absorption in his playing and his beat poet lyrics giving imbuing every tune with a tea-head heaviness.
“Draw a circle in the holy fortress/ Your silent souls will seek your soul kiss,” he intones on the epic Forevermore, as the band seem intent on continuing the tune’s droney grind way past its 11 minute recorded run time on record. They seem lost in it, ready to continue forever down some Moore wormhole – yet suddenly, without any perceptible signal, the tune ends and they’re back in the room.
Watching this spectacle, I realise that Deb Googe’s bass is the key to the success of this live incarnation of post-Youth Moore. Almost crouching over her guitar, facing the drum kit throughout the show, her bass chords anchor things with an omniscient throb that brings something of her old band MBV’s whiteout bliss to the band’s rock framework as well as giving some bottom end heft to the group’s sound.
On Grace Lake’s epic half-step stomp, she and Shelley lock perfectly, their rhythms a glowing cage to Moore and Sedwards’ swirl. Meanwhile, the back-drop projections of journeys to the far reaches of the universe are juxtaposed with close-ups of mushrooms, reminding us that, in 2001:A Space Odyssey style, what may seem like a journey outwards is often revealed as a voyage into our own selves.
After a short break, they’re back with a brace of tracks from Moore’s 1995 album Psychic Hearts, before disappearing again, leaving only the fuzz and feedback of Ono Soul, Moore’s tribute to art provocateur Yoko Ono ringing in our ears. This is Thurston’s trip, and he’s on it forevermore.
The Best Day is available on Matador Records.