Approaching the Brudenell I mistakenly thought Lee Ranaldo had started very early but quickly realised it was the first support band who'd pretty much finished their set by the time I was inside. Close up they proved to be rather more bland and ordinary but having missed most of their set it seems unfair to pass judgement.
Next the experimental noise duo with the memorable name of the Piss Superstition leant over their tables of gadgets and summoned up a progressively louder continuously fluctuating dronescape. Julian Bradley used to be in Vibracathedral Orchestra, who I first saw supporting Borbetomagus in a Leeds pub. Two of them played on "Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style" on 'Murray Street' and made a album with Thurston Moore so there's a Sonic Youth connection. Sonic Youth also covered "I Was Right" by Saccharine Trust and the other Pisser had a Saccharine Trust T-shirt on. Their set might have been helped by a visual element either lights or film, as two blokes fiddling with knobs isn't much of a spectacle. Towards the end as the drone got heavier it began to remind me of the end of Sonic Youth's greatest Geffen album song "Mote," an approprate way to herald the man who sang it.
Lee's quartet had a short worrisome moment before they'd even struck a note as something wasn't working. Someone shouted to them to tell a joke but nothing funnier than a quick fix happened and we got to enjoy the first song "Off the Wall" which sounded all the more urgent after the wait. With Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley behind the kit it wasn't surprising that this was more of the fire and excitement of Sonic Youth than Thurston Moore's recent mellow dude shows. Bassist Irwin Menken and guitarist Alan Licht didn't move much, concentrating on playing but Lee cut loose some guitar swinging action when not singing. Irwin and Alan stood to my right facing the stage and Lee a little off to the left. The set was the whole of his recent album 'Between the times and the Tides,' although not in the same order, plus a very faithful cover of "Walk On" by Neil Young and the Talking Heads song "Thank You For Sending Me An Angel." The last song was "Genetic," a Sonic Youth song that was always too good for a B-side. I always though that and "Hendrix Necro" should have been on 'Dirty' instead of that daffy DC hardcore cover "Nic Fit" and "Creme Brulee" but now with that double CD remaster they are. People often ask me what was the best gig I've been to. That's impossible to say really, but the most exciting was probably the first time I saw Sonic Youth on the 'Daydream Nation' tour at Kilburn National, and this gig brought back flashes of that excitement, maybe because of the intimate friendly atmosphere of the venue, and perhaps because it was something new but familiar. Thurston Moore knows a cool scene when he experiences it and had highly recommended the Brudenell to Lee. It's a shame Lee didn't do a few more UK gigs, but he chose a great one for his only show outside London. Lee asked us all if we'd seen Thurston there in December and got a few shouts of "Yeah!" I'd seen him at Manchester Ritz and shouted, "You're better!"
Lee gave a little speech about how much Talking Heads had inspired him when he first checked out bands in New York. Before "Shouts" he explained it had been inspired by the Stop Wall Street camps near where he lives in NYC. He showed us the picture on the back of his guitar which had been snaped at a riot in Canada that kicked off after that nation's team lost at ice hockey: a couple were rolling about in embrace whilst chaos erupted around them, a crowd behind a riot suited police agent too close to the foreground for comfort. The picture can also be seen on the insert of 'Between the Times and the Tides.' Lee said it had nothing to do with Stop Wall Street he liked it as a visual representation of peaceful protest.
I thought it a bit strange that people had been telling me Lee's album was like REM as I thought it was closer to Sonic Youth really. His Sonic Youth songs are always some of the best and if a compilation of all his songs from the Geffen years was released it'd be the best Sonic Youth album since the awesome 'Daydream Nation.' He revealed his true influences by covering Neil Young and Talking Heads and when he listed other New York bands who inspired him, such as Patti Smith I shouted, "Television!" to which he agreed. No mention of REM though! "Tomorrow Never Comes" is obviously a homage to the Beatles "Tomorrow Never Knows" and the Stones "Paint It Black" is lurking somewhere in the shadows of "Waiting On a Dream."
When "Fire Island (Phases)" caught out a few clappers with its false ending the band came in again and for a moment I thought they were playing "Lee #2," A song left off 'Goo' which really should at least have been a B-side! I prefer to call that song 'Displaced' and there I had displaced but I'd never noticed the similarity in the riffs listening to the album. "Stranded" is a fragile lovelorn song on the album but they played a full band arrangement which gave it more momentum than the skeletal recording. Although I thought the gig would sell out there were less people than at the Wire and Hot Snakes gigs at the same venue.
After the gig Lee signed albums and talked to the people. There was a vinyl reissue of an album by Plus Instruments, an idiosyncratic electronic trio Lee played noise guitar for prior to Sonic Youth and an album of demos for 'Between the Times and the Tides'. This grooves with the "Remember first thought best thought" lyric of "Genetic" but I prefer the finished album. Two songs are missing from the demos so presumably they were written later. They are played by a trio (no Alan Licht) and have a chunkier feel as if they haven't been played long enough to get the smoother flow of the album. Steve sounds as if he'd only just got the drum parts down, and there are a few lyric changes. I told Lee I thought it'd be great idea to put out instrumental versions of all the Sonic Youth albums and he said they were planning something similar; an instrumental album with string arrangements. He also told me they were working on a double disc remaster of 'Sister' with lots of extra material. They might even go so far as to remix it! I was incredulous at that as I think 'Sister' sounds great on vinyl, although the CD loses all the warmth. Steve was taking 'Washing Machine' cover style photos of T-shirts and snapped my red Hot Snakes T-shirt which I bought when they played the Budenell in December.
Before playing a magical "Xtina as I Knew Her" Lee explained the song was about people he'd known as a teenager and how they'd stayed in the same place and he'd moved on. He said he didn't know why that should be. Maybe it was because he followed his dreams?
This review initially appeared on
There is a great video of Lee's next gig at Primavera here