Sonic Youth, Wilco, and Mogwai – Brief Reviews

I had the good fortune this week to see some great live music from these 3 bands on Wedesday, Thursday, and Sunday night respectively.

Sonic Youth at Metropolis August 4, 2004

This was only the second time I’ve seen Sonic Youth, the first time being way back in 1990. Actually, I should say Wednesday’s show was the second time I’ve attendeda Sonic Youth gig, since in no way can it be said that I saw them in that 1990 show. That October night in 1990 was probably the most oversold show in the history of Foufounes Electriques, and the best I could then was listen to them.

Metropolis was a far more comfortable venue than Foufounes was, though it was close to sold out. The times have changed.

I haven’t listened to Sonic Youth that much since “Goo”, so I didn’t know any of the songs. Yet with Sonic Youth, a lack of familiarity with the songs is not a barrier to enjoying them live. It helps just to know an album or two well because the songs are a variation on the trinity of rhythm, noise, and melody.

Le Metroplis is one of Montreal’s best mid-sized venues and was a great place for this gig. The sound is superb no matter who plays and this night was no exception. The crowd was in rapture, and one idiot was so far gone he just had to jump on stage and make a move on Kim Gordon. For the most part, the crowd had good clean fun and so did I.

A good start to my big week of rock shows…..

Wilco at Theatre St.Denis, Thursday August 5

Wilco have been my favourite band for a few years now and this was my third time seeing them in as many years. While Theatre St.Denis is a good venue, at times it felt like being in a straight-jacket.It’s strictly a sit-down, no smoking venue. This can be a good thing, but I don’t like it for Wilco.

The sheer amount of good material Wilco have to draw from is astounding. If you’re a fan, it means you will often walk away from their shows talking as much about what they didn’t play as what they did. This show was no exception. The set predictably drew mainly from YHF and the latest A Ghost is Born, with not a single song from AM or Being There. I would have really liked to have heard at least a couple of songs from these albums, but on this night it was not to be.

They did play some stuff from Summerteeth, but even then the choices of songs are surprising. Rather than playing clear favourites like “I’m always in Love”, “ELT”. or “Nothingsevergonnastandinmyway(again)”, they played the more melancholic “How to Fight Loneliness” or “When you Wake Up Feeling Old”. Despite an unwillingness to play crowd-pleasers, Wilco still manages to pull it off and keep the crowd happy.

The current lineup is probably the best I’ve seen Wilco use on tour. The songs were played perfectly and the sound at Theatre St. Denis was ideal. Jeff Tweedy, despite his reputation for being shy, had a great rapport with the crowd. He seemed to be in good mood and light of step, enjoying himself and the crowd. At one point, during a silence before a song, various members of the audience could be heard screaming for their favourite songs. One person yelled “California Stars”, to which Tweedy replied “We could play that, but then we’d have to skip about, oh, i dunno, 10 songs. But if you really want it now, we could skip those songs. We get paid either way.” Then another, just a few rows behind me, yelled “WAR!”, which got “Well, you’re going to like this selection then.”, and then they played “War on War”.

It was a a great show. There were loads of songs I wanted to hear but didn’t, but I have a whole new appreciation for A Ghost is Born, and they played the material from YHF better than I’d ever heard it done before. True to his promise, they played “California Stars” in the encore part of the set and the crowd was by this time on its feet.

As a sidenote, the Montreal Gazette’s rock critic Jordan Zivitz delivered one of the most gushing reviews of a live show I’ve ever read. Speaking directly to Jeff Tweedy, he says something along the lines of “Jeff, if you can keep this lineup long enough to record another album, I promise to be your manservant for life.” I couldn’t believe it, but it was a review fitting the occasion. I would link to it if I could, but the Gazette is only available online to paid subscribers.

Long live Wilco.

Mogwai at the Spectrum, August 9 2004

This is a band I’ve only ever seen live and have never heard on CD. I saw them last year at the same venue based on their reputation. All I can say is most people should see this band at least once, and be sure to bring earplugs. After last year, there was no way I was going to be without some blockage in my ears because the wall of sound this band produces is, in all my time going to shows, second to none. They produce the most artfully crafted noise I’ve ever heard, though I hesitate to call it noise. Noise just isn’t as artful as Mogwai make it.

At times, their soundscapes are downright terrifying. The last song of the night, one I remember from last year’s show as nearly blowing me off my chair, has parts that get very quiet, and just when you think it can’t get quieter, they explode and more than a few people get rattled by this experience. I did last year but was fully prepared for it this time around.

Honestly, there’s nothing I’ve seen like Mogwai. Nothing. It might be time for me to pick up an album.

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