Concert Contemplations: Cat Power / Citizen Cope / Sonic Youth
Every year around this time, the University of Pennsylvania holds what is known as Spring Fling, and it takes place in the Quad, where I live. There are two sides to every Fling - while outside there are student groups performing, food being sold, and carnival-type games going on, in the residences many, many people are getting absolutely trashed. There's increased security doing bag checks outside the Quad, preventing anyone from bringing in any bottle containing liquid, but that doesn't prevent any drinking, it just makes students come up with clever plans to get the alcohol inside. I don't even drink, and I was forced to smuggle in an innocent Snapple and an innocuous bottle of water during Fling.
Which brings us to the concert. For those of us (like myself) who don't drink and weren't really in the mood for moon bounces, outdoor Twister, or gladiator fighting with weird cushioned objects, there are two events: the Fling concert and the Fling musical. As a Sonic Youth fan ever since January 25, 2004, I was ecstatic to hear that this year's concert would headline Sonic Youth (and feature Cat Power and Citizen Cope as opening acts). Unfortunately, of the friends I tried to convince to go with me, none had really heard of Sonic Youth, so I didn't really have anyone to go with, but I was confident that I'd find someone to hang out with at the concert.
I really hate how the timing of most concerts is handled. My ticket said the doors opened at 6:30 and the concert started at 7:00. I got there at 6:50 and there were about 20 people there. The other people that gradually filed in over the next hour must have gone to more concerts than I had, in my naïveté. The actual concert started at 7:40, and Sonic Youth didn't start until 10:20. That's three and a half hours of waiting for me. Jeez, I could get one-third of the way to seeing the Pope's body in that time. But Cat Power was very good, and even Citizen Cope wasn't too bad - I didn't really like their songs that I heard from the iTunes network, but luckily they sounded a little better live, and when they didn't, at least their drummer and bassist were fun to watch (they were in worlds of their own...).
Finally we got to Sonic Youth. They friggin' rocked. Not one, not two, not three, but four guitars composing this brilliant layering of noise. Their albums are already pretty alive, but wow, hearing this guitar orgy was truly an experience. They took the low turnout in stride too - even 3 hours and 20 minutes after the concert started, there still weren't a whole lot of people there. While I felt bad for Sonic Youth having to play to such a small crowd in a big area, and I was disappointed that my school didn't have better taste in music, it was pretty good logistically. It meant that I could stand very close to the front, and that I could go to the bathroom during a Citizen Cope song and get through the crowd to be standing back up at the front.
I don't remember every song they played - despite being a big fan of the band, I've actually only heard three of their albums. But I definitely caught "Pattern Recognition", "Dude Ranch Nurse", and "New Hampshire" from Sonic Nurse, as well as "Eric's Trip" from Daydream Nation. And for their encore, they played the song that everyone had been shouting out through the whole concert: "Teen Age Riot." If there is a Heaven, I hope they're not too harp-obsessed to not invite Sonic Youth to play "Teen Age Riot" live. And the song concluded with a noise solo that consisted of them rubbing their guitars all over their bodies, the stage, the amps, and the other guitars. This went on for at least eight minutes (I say "at least" because I unfortunately had to leave a little early to catch the midnight showing of the Fling musical, but I'm sure they could've kept this up for another fifteen minutes).
It was actually kind of surprising to see how much they rocked considering how old they were. Lee Renaldo has gone gray, Kim Gordon's face has begun to wrinkle, Thurston Moore... could still pass for 25. Even so, I was still amazed to find out from the All Music Guide that they're actually all around 50. In fact, Kim Gordon will be turning 52 in a few weeks, which is older than my parents. I couldn't imagine my parents even listening to a whole Sonic Youth concert, much less playing in one.
One of my friends described Sonic Youth as a bad choice for the Fling concert because they're too old for most of us to have heard of them but not old enough to be retro. I think this statement is sad but ultimately pretty true. The UPenn class of 2008 is too young to know Sonic Youth from their peak in the late 80s, too young to have cared about them headlining the Lollapalooza tour - but still, although 80s music is having a bit of an on-campus comeback, that applies more to artists like Billy Joel and Madonna than an indie underground band like Sonic Youth. But at least there's still someone whose day was made by going to this awesome concert. And it's nice to know that a band that represented all the apathy of the 80s teenage sentiment, with none of the bullshit, is still going strong musically.
P.S. The Fling musical was The Rocky Horror Show (that should explain why there was a midnight showing), and it featured plenty of nudity, both partial and full, and often involving my friends. The musical also rocked.