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Thurston Moore Parties Till He Pukes

October 2, 2007

Usually if Thurston Moore is playing a club show sans Sonic Youth, it’s a low-key noise improv gig, maybe joined by some free-jazz friends. But Saturday night’s show at Washington’s Rock and Roll Hotel, supporting Moore’s recent singer-songwriter solo album, Trees Outside the Academy, was an exception. His brief current tour doesn’t include a Baltimore stop–and we were still sore about missing the Rather Ripped tour last year–so we made the drive down.

Christina Carter, a member of Houston’s Charlambides who guests on Trees, opened the show with a solo set. And though her straightforward voice-and-guitar performance was pleasant enough, she made the strange choice to sing every single song through an odd reverb effect. It was funny when she introduced herself with the cartoonish echo on her voice, and intriguing for the first couple songs, but it got good and stale before she was even halfway done.

Shortly after, Moore took the stage with an acoustic guitar, a rare sight in his decades-long career. Sonic Youth, more than almost any band of its generation, has made the most of the electric guitar’s possibilities, using effects, alterations, and amp noise, sometimes to the point of obscuring the instrument’s melodic potential. But on Trees, Moore finally plays acoustically at length, broadening the hippieish sentimental streak and gorgeous instrumental passages that have characterized the last few SY albums.

Onstage Saturday, Moore was accompanied by his backing players from the album, violinist Samara Lubelski and SY drummer Steve Shelley, along with a bassist/second guitarist, and Carter, who joined Moore for the duet “Honest James.” The expanded live band managed to replicate the album’s songs note for note, only mixing up the running order slightly. In fact, the only surprise of the set was when Moore threw up on his guitar in the middle of a song. After recovering and finishing the tune, he goofed on it at length, but not explaining whether he’d been under the weather or drinking, and noting that this was the first time it’d ever happened in his 29 years of gigging.

Of course, playing the bulk of a 45-minute album isn’t exactly giving people their money’s worth, so Moore returned for an encore. And though an incredibly obnoxious cluster of people by the bar found it necessary to scream for “Teenage Riot,” Moore wisely avoided Sonic Youth classics, instead pulling out five songs from his only other song-driven solo album, 1995′s Psychic Hearts. For the first time in the night, Moore strapped on an electric guitar, and the boneheaded riffs of “Queen Bee and Her Pals” and “Patti Smith Math Scratch” felt like something of a release after the comparatively austere Trees material, even with violin accompaniment. Still, he ended the night on a poignant note with perhaps his greatest solo song, the title track from Psychic Hearts, joined only by Shelley’s drums while playing a simple two-chord riff and reciting the song’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics. The music Moore makes outside of his main gig may not often measure up to Sonic Youth’s best, but it’s enough of a welcome change of pace that, hopefully, he won’t wait another 12 years to make some more songs like these.