Lee Ranaldo live in Sydney

I have seen Sonic Youth several times now. The first when I was fourteen and before the gig I necked a bottle of cheap, putrid, fizzy wine outside the venue with a friend. It seemed like a fitting thing to do at the time, but, we were definitely out of place in doing so. In Sonic Youth’s prime, decades before, the majority of the current crowd would have been doing as I was, but in that era, I would have been shitting myself in nappies and being waited on hand and foot. Now, Sonic Youth fans may have outgrown the grunge lifestyle that they possessed in the 90’s and stopped drinking out of paper bagged bottles, but, as I overheard one woman in the bathrooms say nostalgically at Lee Ranaldo’s solo gig in Sydney, “it’s like going to another time”.

Ranaldo as a solo artist performed as expected. He had graduated from the school of Sonic Youth with honours in alternative tuning and fuzzy haze skills. The main mic and spotlight now remained on Ranaldo, although for the gig he modestly was set side-of-stage with band mates (including Steve Shelley) helping him get through the numbers off his debut record Between the Times and The Tides.

In between tracks he addressed the Oxford Art Factory crowd, explaining the songs’ meanings. Xtina was about being young, taking risks, and a particular memory of a girl whose house he used to hang out at when her parents were away. He said that he found it strange how people get stuck in the past (which I found quite ironic), and why people don’t change, that people still went and got fucked up at the same kinda parties like Christina had at her house.  The lyrics were like a diary entry of a young Ranaldo.

The set grew more exciting, tracks like Hammer and the following ten minutes or so of electronic, wobbly feedback produced from a violin stick being pelted at a fret board built atmosphere in the packed venue. He played a cover of Thank You For Sending Me an Angel, which was perky but seemed like a white elephant amongst the grungy set.

His metamorphosis into a solo artist seemed somewhat stagnant as he referred to Sonic Youth and time spent touring and experiencing things as a group throughout his gig. He had big shoes to fill to compete with the mega success of the band, but, he certainly proved that he had the skills to make it on his own. The ambitious performance from Ranaldo was impressive and the raucous applause it received resulted in an encore of a delicate number, Stranded, which closed the set nicely.


Review and photos by Carol Bowditch