LIVE REVIEW: Thurston Moore – The Phoenix, Exeter – 18/05/2015

Thurston Moore has been married to his guitar for far longer than he ever was to Sonic Youth bandmate Kim Gordon, and he treats it even worse than he treated her.

Thurston-Moore-band-by-Phil-Sharp-smallTaking his plectrum to the neck of his very fine fender like an axe-wielding Norman Bates, Moore proceeded to wring every sound, texture and scream out of his instrument over a set that lasted an hour and a half but only contained seven songs. I reiterate that: an hour and a half set containing seven songs. And one of these contained a wall of feedback that lasted nigh on 20 minutes.

Moore has never been known as a man who caters for a crowd, but there were times in the set where I thought the perennially strung out grizzled fifty-something had simply forgotten we as an audience were there; instead hallucinating that he was back in a small New York flat, engaging in noise wars with distant mating cats. If all you had heard of Moore’s latest solo album ‘The Best Day’ in the lead up to the gig was its radio-friendly eponymous single and you’d assumed the alternative guitar legend had become more conventional in his old age, as I had, then you were in for a shock.

This is not to say that this heady performance was a bad one. As he proved for over thirty years with no-wave sound pioneers Sonic Youth: when Moore strikes, he strikes gold. His sprawling opener ‘Forevermore’ was an absolute behemoth of an introduction to the evening, building an ever-blossoming wall of sound that proceeded to pull the rug from under the audience every chorus to drop us back in the gripping chug of the one note riff.

The similarly epic ‘Speak To The Wild’ serves as a masterclass in post-rock repetition, it’s writhing solo constantly introducing new elements and strains as though an angry Lilliput Philharmonic Orchestra was somehow trapped in Moore’s left hand. These tracks perfectly encapsulated the formula Moore has distilled to perfection: nonchalant detuned riff? Check. Satisfying key-switch before jumping back to said riff? Check. Four minute solo to make you forget what the original riff was? Check. Whack out the initial riff right at the end and continue as if the wildly divergent middle-eighth had never happened? Check. These are the same patented tricks he demonstrated on Goo and Daydream Nation, just now there’s no Gordon to check his ego, which has both glorious and nauseatingly pretentious results. Like the 20 minutes of straight feedback: in the early nineties Moore would probably only have been allowed 10.

Pulling all the same stunts that he pulled back in his Youth right beside him is old bandmate and drummer Steve Shelly, his bass drum still bearing the legend ‘Sonic Youth’. It’s no surprise that the synchronised throbbing rythms of the longstanding partnership provide the most satisfyingly fuzzed up hooks of the night, most prominently on ‘Germs Burn’ (which sounds a hell of a lot like Sex Bob-Omb from Scott Pilgrim) and the ever-evolving new song ‘Turn On’. Also in the ‘Neo Psychic Band’, as Moore decides to introduce them, is Ex-My Bloody Valentine bassist and Somerset resident Debbie Googe. Any member of the sonically similar MBV was always going to fit Thurston’s band, even if her main contribution of the evening is to give him a geography lesson on South-West England that only a few of us at the front could even overhear (“So you’ve lived here?” he asks her after another twelve minute jam, “No? So where is this? And what ‘shire’ am I?” His laconic stage banter also included condemning a heckler as the “meat-headed Mayor of Yeovil”).

For a while I was convinced that the second guitarist on stage was Thurston Moore circa 1987 brought to 2015 through a time loop by his future self in the ultimate act of self-indulgence. In reality it was Nøught member James Sedwards, but you can be sure as soon as the technology’s there Thurston Moore will be the first in line to form a complete clone band. But despite the man’s gargantuan levels of pretentiousness, watching him from meters away was an unexpected privilege. Though his vocals were almost completely obscured and he read his lyrics off a sheaf of sheets he kept on dropping, no-one was there to hear him sing: we were there for an otherworldy, innovative strat-attack that would leave us feeling as wrung-out as his fretboard. We were not disappointed.

Agree or disagree?