Album Review: Sonic Youth


Sonic Youth -‘Smart Bar, Chicago 1985′ (Goofin’ Records)

Released on the band’s own label Goofin’ Records, in simple terms this is as it says, a live gig at Chicago’s Smart Bar. The thing is, it’s a fantastic snapshot of one of the most important bands of the last thirty years at an important part in their history.

Steve Shelley had just joined on drums, and the band had released their third studio album Bad Moon Rising and they were working towards what would be their fourth album, Evol. By comparison to the material they would put out on Geffen from 1990 onwards, this seems raw-but no less thrilling. It may start out with a slightly dodgy recording of ‘Hallowe’en’ -but it transpires this was due to someone not de-pressing pause when recording the gig. Once they do, it opens up to an album that matches the likes of the Stooges or Dinosaur Jr. for sheer volume and intensity.

And whilst the band had yet to make a commercial breakthrough (hint: there was a reason why this music was known as ‘alternative’ at this point in time), there are songs familiar to those who are familiar with the studio records of the time. So the legendary ‘Expressway To Yr Skull’ appears, as do astonishing versions of the likes of ‘Flower’, ‘Intro/Brave Men Run (In My Family)’ and a version of ‘Death Valley ’69’ that may not have Lydia Lunch but is oozing with power and presence.

With the news late last year that Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon have separated, there is, no doubt, going to be speculation about whether the band will be a going concern. Don’t focus on that, focus on an incendiary performance that grabs you by the balls and makes you yell for more. Despite what some reviews have suggested, this is not just an album for fans, but rather an album that gives an insight into what the band were about and where they were going.


Smart Bar, Chicago 1985 is released on Goofin’ Records on Noevmber 12.

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