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Sonic Youth, let’s face it, are a band we all love and a valued part of our modern lives, so how are we supposed to fill the yawning void left in our lives while they’re taking some time off to figure out their future? Well very thoughtfully they’ve started going through the vaults looking for undiscovered gems amongst their thousands of hours of live recordings and studio outtakes, and the first show to be deemed worthy of its own record is this show from 1985 in Chicago.
To put it in context, the band had just recorded Bad Moon Rising with drummer Bob Bert before replacing him with skilled sticksman Steve Shelley, which makes this album interesting to the SY faithful on two important levels - firstly we get to hear a load of Bad Moon Rising material with Shelley on drums, and secondly this is one of the very first recordings of the classic Moore/Gordon/Ranaldo/Shelley line-up who spent the next two decades worming their way into our hearts.
It’s an excellent recording, too. Well, at first it sounds like a really dodgy fan boot (Rich Menning, who made the four-track recording the bulk of the record was mixed from, forgot to hit play until halfway through the first song, so the first half of ‘Hallowe’en’ is sourced from another taper named Aadam Jacobs), but when they do fade over to the better recording you can really tell and it kind of works like a weird extended intro passage in a sense. It’s not ideal but it’s not ruined either.That’s pretty by-the-by though, because ultimately there’s a chance here to listen to an incendiary, some might even say definitive, performance by one of the best bands ever to walk the earth, right at the moment where everything fell into place. It’s got ‘Death Valley ‘69’, ‘Brother James’, ‘Kill Yr Idols’ and even early performances of ‘Expressway To Yr Skull’ and ‘Secret Girl’. Basically this is the best Sonic Youth live album since ‘Hold That Tiger’ and if you’re a fan then it’s essential listening.
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- Smart Bar Chicago 1985 by Sonic Youth
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