At the last moment it was not announced that Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore would perform at the Dithyrambalina Music Box House on Piety Street in Bywater, New Orleans, in a duo with my friend and kindred guitar spirit Rob Cambre. The line for this secret show was very long. Inside the courtyard, the bleachers looked like a Bywater yearbook photo, with neighborhood faces filling every available space.
Moore and Cambre performed an hour long set in three movements. They began with a softer guitar dual, no distortion. In his new solo work and the last few Sonic Youth records, Thurston’s seemed less into distortion. He played acoustic on David Letterman recently. For the show’s first movement, Rob played melodic rhythm behind Thurston’s pretty clanging.
The duo then put down their guitars and for 15-min ran up into the Music Box where I could not see them. As they tested out various instruments I could only hear the sound of metal scraping metal, and the pedals on the sampler board clacking to where you couldn’t really hear the samples underneath. Thurston played the huge “gamalatron’s” percussive bells manually, instead of in its player piano mode, which was very impressive, even if I could not see him. Overall though, the Music Box didn’t sound as awesome with just two dudes trying to cover that much ground, as opposed to the installation’s regular multi-musician orchestral arrangement. And as much as I love Dithyrambalina’s concept and beauty, after hearing the house’s particular conglomeration of sounds at a few performances, the sonic pallet begins to feel samey. This second movement was cool enough, but I was excited when they went back to their guitars.
Let me add that, with truly improvisational music, I for one expect peaks and valleys. I’ve rarely seen an improvisational music performance where every second was perfect. Perfection is the goal of composers. Watching someone bite off little more than they can chew, and then watching them recover their footing, is pretty interesting in itself.
For the show’s third movement Thurston stepped on the distortion. A couple times he’d hit a wall and stop playing, and all attention would focus on Cambre, who was always, always doing something I wish I had been paying more attention to previously. Then Thurston would dash off in an unrelated, fresh musical direction, a very different sound. Thurston finally lay his black Fender Jazzmaster in his lap, not 10-feet in front of us, plunged a metal file into the guitar’s bridge, gripped the file in his fist and and began violently shaking it, rattling loudly his guitar. It was fucking awesome. Though it could not have been more like actual masturbation.
It must also be mentioned that 54-year-old Thurston still has the youngest hair in showbiz. Whenever he would hit a particularly heavy noise “riff” he’d bang his head and I’d think, for some reason, “Prell.” A word I’ve never said aloud, a product I have never used. Yet every time he shook that “stupid mop” I would inadvertently hear: “Prell.”
Finally after a prolonged sonic shaking fit, Thurston “came.” I can’t tell you that he himself realized how perfectly his performance mirrored onanism, but he did finally let out a huge breath, turned his guitar off, and slumped over his lap — allowing for the night’s best moment wherein Thurston, breathing heavily, just sat and listened to Rob create a huge wall of bass notes, blurry fast shit on the top three strings of his gold and black (Saints-colored) Jazzmaster. As Thurston sat listening for several minutes, that’s when my eyes welled up, because I knew how much this meant to Rob to not only be doing this, but killing it so hard.
After the great show, I and AntiGravity editor Dan Fox (also a great photographer who had been given permission to run around the Music Box all night snapping photos) sat on the bleachers waiting for Rob and Thurston to accept the accolades of various crowd members. Finally Thurston took the black Mustang he’d used and handed it to my friend Chris Columbo, lead guitarist of Rotary Downs, whose meticulously inventive playing I very much admire. “Thanks for letting me borrow it,” I overheard Thurston say as he handed it to Chris. “Halfway through I sort of pulled back, remembering, ‘Oh right, this isn’t my guitar.’” All this to say: my friend Chris now owns a guitar with which the most important rock guitarist since Eddie Van Halen had jacked off.
Thurston and Rob then sat down for an interview, which was laid back and full of laughs – made all the more pleasant by the fact that we mainly asked Thurston about Rob, and his connection to New Orleans. All in all, this was possibly my most fun night of 2012.