When Sonic Youth devoted most of its 20-minute set at the KROQ "Almost Acoustic Christmas" show last Sunday to feedback and noise, it was received by the young crowd with applause--but mostly as the band left the stage.
When SY guitarist Thurston Moore performed at the Alligator Lounge on Thursday with drummer Tom Surgal, though, many of the fans who packed the club--perhaps looking for an antidote to an OD of Christmas carols--wanted feedback and noise. They got it.
Unbridled of any sense of song or structure, Moore and Surgal created slowly unfolding arcs of sound. Moore often seemed in a trance as he alternately banged, scraped and caressed ticks and harmonics from his electric guitar, while Surgal's fluttering percussion added a nervous edge. Such musical exercises are generally more liberating for the musician than the audience, but with this crowd willing to follow Moore's fancies, it was a mutually rewarding experience.
The set capped off a night organized by guitarist Nels Cline as an extension of his New Music Mondays at the Alligator. Cline's own set provided Thursday's high point, ranging from impossibly quick Ornette Coleman-esque interplay to total chaos (Cline attacking his instrument with a wire whisk), climaxing in a gorgeous, complex composition in which Cline, second guitarist Woody Aplanalp and drummer Michael Preussner layered compelling tapestries of sound.
Also performing were a quintet anchored by visual artist Mike Kelley on drums for a set of quirky songs punctuated by absurdist romps with squeak toys and the Polar Goldiecats, a quartet whose pattern music was like surf-rock composed by Steve Reich and played by, well, Sonic Youth.