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Sonic Youth, ‘Smart Bar – Chicago 1985′ – Album Review

Capturing the ambiance of the fresh young noise rockers in their toddler days, this 1985 live set opens with trademark scratchy feedback, before Kim Gordon’s haunting, progressively urgent vocals overpower Steve Shelley’s slow thudding drums and the hollow, clean, single-string-plucking progression on ‘Hallowe’en.’

Among the crowd chatter at the intimate venue, you can actually hear someone say, “I don’t know that much about them.”

Released on Sonic Youth’s own Goofin’ Records, this remastered gig was originally recorded on a 4-track cassette, and the first six tracks (‘Death Valley ’69,’ ‘Intro Brave Men Run (In My Family),’ ‘I Love Her All the Time,’ ‘Ghost Bitch’ and ‘I’m Insane’) are deliciously raw renditions of songs from the then-brand-new ‘Bad Moon Rising.’ Gordon’s vocals are delightfully crisp and more piercing than on the studio tracks, but Thurston Moore’s a bit muffled. Still, the recording and mixing are far better than one would expect from having so little to work with, and this Smart Bar show is one of the band’s very earliest live recordings.

Although it sounds after each track like only about seven people are clapping, the stark nature of the show resonates. You can be there.

After the momentum-gathering string of ‘Bad Moon Rising’ delights, it comes time for rabid SY fans to truly salivate over a never-before-released live instrumental rendition of the gem ‘Kat n’ Hat,’ followed by early, stripped-down, pounding versions of ‘Brother James,’ ‘Secret Girl’ and ‘Expressway to Yr Skull,’ Shelley — who had just joined the band — expertly reels in the feedback fest at all opportune moments.

Get ready for a very screechy, steel-slide-heavy ‘Kill Yr Idols’ and a thundering noise racket of ‘The Burning Spear,’ the band’s very first song. Before wrapping up with ‘Making the Nature Scene,’ Moore announces that “we’re going to do a song about tripping on LSD at Wrigley Field,” and Gordon chimes in, thanking Steve Albini and mentioning his BBQ talents.

It’s all very nostalgic and heartwarming — a reminder of a time when everyone was friends.

8 out of 10 rating

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