Even through band dissolution, high-profile divorce and dramatic uprooting across the pond, very little seems to have changed for Thurston Moore. Ever the lanky, unapologetic urbanite flower child, Moore doesn’t seem to have aged a day since the luminously grainy Goo promos of 1990. Indeed, he’s still in thrall to the residual pull of New York City’s “dim lights” on recent single Smoke of Dreams. His blond hair is boyishly long, his skin miraculously free of blemishes, and his inimitable guitar style is – in the words of David Byrne – same as it ever was.
For a musician who comfortably flits between chugging rock ‘n’ roll and the outer reaches of unhinged free noise as if they were interchangeable, Moore isn’t known for relentless sonic exploration like your Arto Lindsays or, not to put too fine a point on it, your Kim Gordons. However, Moore’s long-running solo output is marked by a continual refinement of the same spindly noise rock he spun on his 1995 debut Psychic Hearts. On his latest offering, Rock n Roll Consciousness, Moore and his solid backing band – the same that beefed up the 2014 album The Best Day – have magnificently synthesised searing dissonance and axe-brandishing melody. The hearty mix of restraint and release in tonight’s whittled-down set of epics – amorphous classic rock cuts for ageing Gen X-ers – is clear testimony of Moore and gang at their best.
At Saint Luke’s tonight, as is surely the case anywhere Moore goes, there’s a great noise rock elephant in the room. “Superstar,” cries a keen bean, likely hopeful that Moore might whip out Sonic Youth’s downcast Carpenters cover, rediscovered after its inclusion in the 2007 film Juno. Moore shrugs off any reference to his former band with self-effacing charm, but the wayward heckler need not worry for lack of major hit fare. There’s no Teenage Riot or Incinerate tonight, but Moore’s set abounds with the sagacity of Sonic Youth’s late renaissance. There are glimpses of early-2000s cult favourites Murray Street and Sonic Nurse’s clear-eyed noise rock odysseys all over recent screaming behemoths Turn On and Speak To The Wild.
“Cease fire, cease fire / can’t you see the kids are wired” coos Moore over a steadily-paced gamut, later invoking that 1969 adage “free love, free love”. But there’s little here in overt protest of, say, the June 8 election (Moore mistook a “Vote Labour” heckle for “More Legroom” – perhaps more appropriate than it would first appear). The politics of Moore’s protest music have always been vague at best – an unequivocal riling against something-or-other. God? The Man? Reality in general? Nevertheless, the dizzying noise jams that punctuate tonight’s set, dwarfing Ono Soul during the encore, imagine new sound-worlds; alternative realms in which rock music is destroyed and renewed as pure electrical feedback, anchored to earth by drummer and fellow ex-Sonic Youth Steve Shelley, along with Deb Googe’s wizened bass work.
Lengthy jams are a trademark of any Moore show, and surely very few are surprised by their presence tonight. There’s still something powerful in seeing Moore and guitarist James “Shredwards” Sedwards facing their amplifiers, their backs to the audience, teasing out sylphic plainsong and hellish yelps and gurgles from their respective stacks. Overshadowed by a monolithic church organ and radiant stained-glass displays, the freewheeling noise below takes on a spiritual-religious quality – psychedelic glossolalia – drifting somewhere between Steve Reich’s mantraic loops and the ecstatic devotion of John Coltrane. Nobody’s speaking in tongues tonight, but the glorious racket and crystalline tension are enough to sharpen the edge of an otherwise placid performance.