When Thurston Moore – Sonic Youth frontman, talking head in every music documentary ever made, and co-conspirator in a mind-boggling array of collaborations – last came to Dublin it was on the back of his third solo album ‘Demolished Thoughts’. That Button Factory gig – an all-seated, candlelit tabled, hushed acoustic affair – was an altogether different beast from tonight’s Whelan’s show. Moore along with drummer John Moloney have taken a step outside of their latest project Chelsea Light Moving to embark on a series of experimental flights of freeform fancy. Their ‘Caught On Tape’ LP captured the duo doing just that on a European tour in Spring of 2012, but tonight it’s Dublin’s chance to see the sagely guitarist at his unfettered best.
Support comes from Dublin metal merchants Zom, who immediately make the stage their own, displaying a black backdrop with a logo that looks like Beelzebub’s bunghole. A stagehand lights three candles on stands and the three-piece band take the stage, all snarling instrumentals and indistinguishable shouting. Stage and band are now bathed in a red glow as the band dispense spacey, doom-laden power chords and impressive double bass pedal franticism in the Slayer mould. Songs are punctuated by effect-laden vocal embellishments and reverb-y howls, and admittedly things start to feel a bit predictable towards the end. By the time the bassist has cast off his instrument leaving the other two to wind down towards a screaming finale, Zom have tipped the scales in their favour in what is a raucous and enjoyable set.
Moore and Moloney appear then, the former – stout in hand – leisurely going about the business of taking his guitar from its case and generally pottering about the stage. “Turn off Led Zeppelin please” instructs a jovial Moore before talking up the merits of Wire and The Fall over Led Zep. The two lads have decided to spend January in Ireland apparently – “I’ve got the red hair, he’s got the attitude.” After cementing a rapport with some entertaining banter it’s straight in with some concentrated head banging, Moore stalking the stage during the lengthy feedback section.
Lip follows, before which Moore chastises Moloney – “Your drumbeat knocked over my Guinness dude”. The pint of stout almost becomes a third band member, playing tricks on the guitarist by pretending to fall over and hiding from him whenever he leaves it down. We suspect it’s not his first. Someone shouts to turn it up. “Oh, okay” Moore shrugs, following with more punk rock thrashing before the ever-ascending guitar of Burroughs. Both men are clearly enjoying the arse off the gig, and the crowd are right there with them.
‘Psychic Hearts’ song – one of many from that record – Pretty Bad transforms from its experimental feedback breakdown into metal riffage, seeming to disintegrate into an entanglement of digital bleeps before pushing back into an abrasive, fret-scouring onslaught. After pimping his ‘zine at the merch stand – one wag calls for a PDF – he reads an original poem inspired by Irish poet Dennis O’Driscoll before Staring Statues. This rendering is as conventional as the night gets; a short, sharp burst of punk flaying.
The fire alarm that goes off during Queen Bee and Her Pals raises nothing but cheers and eyebrows, neither performer nor crowd paying heed. Ono Soul rounds off the set – it’s interesting to watch Moore and Moloney interact, feeling each other out with the odd glance or hesitant hold back distinguishing the improvisational meanderings from the blueprints. Moore gyrates around the stage wrenching all sorts of Jurassic noises from his guitar as Moloney pummels away. The freak out ending is a scratchy, glitchy symbiotic joy, as Moore taps a drone from the neck and Moloney lets loose.
A twelve-string acoustic is donned for the encore as the guitarist “just wants to dance in a feedback trance”. The inevitable request for Freebird is shouted, but we get Mina Loy instead. Moore brings the lights up in the venue – “a level playing field” – before Psychic Hearts. It’s a simple meat’n’potatoes finish to a gig that showcases Moore’s innovative guitar techniques, and Moloney’s powerhouse drumming provides the scaffolding and momentum modifications that give it all shape. It’s a more structured performance than the ‘improvisational’ tag would have you believe, but when gig’s are this much fun who’s complaining? Only the Led Zep fans.