Photo by SYDNEY SCHAEFER
“Blues is a feeling,” Mississippi Fred McDowell used to muse. Indisputable truth from a blues master (1906-1972). But can Rock n Roll be deemed a Consciousness, as Thurston Moore posits with the title of his latest solo album? Lawdy, yes. Moore’s roiling yet contemplative recent record, released in late April, helps make the case: 5 extended dual guitar song-jams over its 40 minutes, oft-enough reaching “real O-mind” rock-out exhilaration as well as strum-&-blossom thoughtful reflection. The alb’s not a meta-rock document but, especially for those who Believe, it’s some hugely welcome Rock My Religion-ism spirit-uplift from the singer-guitarist, someone so familiar to many from his central role in the iconic Sonic Youth for 3 decades. (And believe this: no matter how boho or avant-garde any of his many pursuits ever seem -= free jazz-y experimentation, teaching poetry at the Naropa Institute — guy’s fundamental stance has always been that of an inspiring rock obsessive.)
Onstage Saturday night at Underground Arts, the tall, Connecticut-raised Moore (who turns 59 on Tuesday) flexed the concept/ appellation even further when introducing his rather phenomenal trans-Atlantic quartet (together since 2014, over two albums now): “This band is Rock n Roll Consciousness. I’m Thurston. That’s James [Sedwards, a dazzling London guitarist who, even though playing a Fender Jazzmaster like Moore, coaxed forth a whole ‘nother suite of sounds]; and Deb [Googe, vet bassist of many fine endeavors, most famously in Irish “shoegaze” legends My Bloody Valentine]; and Steve [Shelley, the steady, Michigan-born drummer who also played with Moore in Sonic Youth from 1985 until the group’s indefinite hiatus began in 2011].”
The band was halfway thru a shimmering, unhurried nine-song set, playing all the new record plus its bonus track “Cease Fire” as the opener. Highlights along the way included the now London-based Moore’s ghostly rumination on his old New York City haunts, in the new “Smoke of Dreams” – and, of course, riveting psychedeli-jangle cyber-rock guitar interplay, with all the headstock-knocking arpeggiated trimmings, between Thurston and Sedwards, a talent who leads his own prog-math band Nøught back in England. (It was fascinating to see/ hear Moore paired off in a band setting with a guitar foil so distinct from Sonic’s Lee Ranaldo.) They encored with a trippy dip into “Ono Soul,” Moore’s homage to pioneering “queen of noise” Yoko, off his solo debut Psychic Hearts (1995).
Moore paused mid-set to give respect to the local openers – long a practice of him and SY, being such sincere boosters of countless underground rock (and beyond) artists through the 80s, ‘90s and into the new millennium – and made another monicker quip: “I’d like to thank Writhing Squares for having the best band name of the year …” And the WS were worthy, having delivered some exceptional stripped-down Hawkwind-cum-Krautrock space skronk. The busy Philly duo of Rickenbacker-bass-wielding (and, indeed, consciously Chris Squire-evoking) Dan Provenzano (ex-Purling Hiss and Spacin’, now backing Rosali in The Middlemen) and saxist-flautist Kevin Nickles (of Ecstatic Vision and ongoing Phila. neo-No Wave-ish sensations Taiwan Housing Project, whom Moore also praised) play Kung Fu Necktie on Thursday with Omaha’s David Nance Band and Hothead.
Moore then returned to the music, setting up “Cusp,” another stormy if poetically positive song from R.nR. C., that rode on a tight, tough, nearly martial rhythm-section rumble made by trapsman Shelley and locked-in bassist Googe. “This song was co-written with Radieux Radio [a London transgender poet/ activist who contributed other lyrics to both the band’s new and previous albums]. It’s about sharing with you the energy of going into this honorable resistance against those who seek to divide with paranoia and fear – because it’s not gonna happen.” Turns out, Mississippi Fred McDowell also used to say “I Do Not Play No Rock ‘n’ Roll” – the title of his late-career, first electric guitar album (1969) – but he loved the adoring ‘60s rock kids, with their awareness of both him and other, different artists, ideas, etc. Those youth were onto something: a rock & roll(-based) way to be, w a certain wide-open, creative, all-encompassing consciousness .— David R. Stampone