Sweet Youth

Pub date July 17, 2007
SectionMusicSectionSonic Reducer

› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER "It was a period where you thought anything could happen," Thurston Moore once told me, talkin’ ’bout the early ’90s alternative rock scene spawned by Sonic Youth’s widely regarded masterpiece, Daydream Nation (DGC, 1988).

One might say the MTV-coined catchphrase "Alternative Nation" went as far as to take its cues from SY’s double disc, which was self-aware enough to dub a track "The Sprawl" and heady enough to venture into the big-statement two-LP turf also being hoed by once–SST kindred Minutemen and Hüsker Dü. Honestly, back in those hazy days, I recall giving it a handful of spins, sensing the distinct odor of a masterpiece, and immediately stopping playing it. Daydream was much too much, too rich for my blood, too jammed with the brainy, jokey pop culture ephemera that had riddled Sonic Youth’s LPs up to that point — positioned as the polar opposite of a hardcore punk 7-inch, which was short, sharp, and built for maximum speed. Yo, you’d never catch Minor Threat doing a double album. Instead Daydream thumbed its nose at the closeted cops in the mosh pit and unfurled like a dark banner announcing: We can’t be contained by your louder, faster, lamer rules. We’re gonna speak to a imaginary country — off Jorge Luis Borges’s and Italo Calvino’s grids — of naval-gazing, candle-clutching misfit visionaries looking for clues in trash cults, Madonna singles, and the burned-out butt end of the Raygun-era ’80s.

Now nearly 20 years old, Daydream — recently given the deluxe reissue treatment with an additional disc of live tracks — brings back memories of prophesy and triggers reminders of mortality. Around the time it first came out, I recall ranting to kindred record store clerks — and anyone who stumbled into my predated High Fidelity daydream — how everything will change when Sonic Youth meets Public Enemy. And it sort of did on Daydream, coproduced by Nicholas Sansano, who engineered PE’s ’88 masterwork It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (Def Jam).

Apparently we were also talkin’ ’bout nation building back then, finding a face and a place for a generation still living at home and struggling for an identity. Imagining a meeting of the most powerful forces in American rock and hip-hop seemed like the next best thing to moving out — and it foreshadowed Goo and touring collaborations to come. Little did I — or Moore — realize that a dozen years after Daydream Nation, the meeting of rock and rap would degrade into what Moore described as "negativecore" and rap-metal units like Limp Bizkit and debacles like Rapestock 2000. Daydream Nation offered a whole other, embracing view of a youth revolution with its opening track and college radio hit "Teen Age Riot." Sonic Youth had dared to write an anthem for a new age of kids, tagged with Kim Gordon’s "you’re it!" — and everyone was on the same page, stoned on Dinosaur Jr.–style Jurassic distortion and thinking-Neanderthal riffs and racing as fast as they could through dreamlike pop pastiche, as embodied by the accompanying video, a kind of decades-late Amerindie response to "White Riot" or "Anarchy in the UK."

On Daydream pop hooks emerged for the first time alongside the ever-coalescing SY aesthetic, with euphoric, charging chord progressions seemingly unrooted to the blues, and the way the group would open into intentionally pretty passages, flaunting the delicate uses of distortion and a feminized rock sensibility. We were all dreaming of Nirvana, a fringe seeping into the pop marketplace. Honestly though, listening to that Daydream again, I couldn’t help but be disappointed. Its brute approach has become a part of ’90s rock’s wallpaper — as Moore confesses in the reissue notes, black metallists have even owned up to copping licks from " ‘Cross the Breeze" — and therefore perhaps sounds more pedestrian. The triptych of "Hey Joni," "Providence," and "Candle" now sounds more charged than "Teen Age Riot" and "Silver Rocket," and I can’t help but think that Sister may be a stronger, more concise album. Perhaps we’re still too close to the stalled staling of the Alternative Nation, though maybe the faded nature of Daydream Nation is tagged to its very status as a classic — how does one pump life into, say, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?

It does help, however, to play it loud. *


Thurs/19, 8 p.m., $35

Berkeley Community Theatre

1900 Allston Way, Berk.



There was a time when the Bay’s Lovemakers looked like they were going to get all the love nationally — an Interscope deal tucked neatly into their back pocket and a heavy-breathing following around town. So what happened?

"Interscope asked us if we wanted to do another record," vocalist-guitarist Scott Blonde says from Oakland, "and we said no, because our A&R guy was obviously really into us and he and his assistant worked really hard for us, but it didn’t seem possible to get Brenda Romano, who runs the radio department, to get into it enough to put it ahead of 50 Cent and Gwen Stefani." He chuckles.

These days, the band members are focusing on making love on their own terms: their Misery Loves Company EP comes out July 24, the first release on San Francisco’s Fuzz label.

"Obviously we got more cash dollars’ support on Interscope," vocalist-bassist-violinist Lisa Light adds from the Mission District. "But the thing is the way it gets spent. Interscope would spend $5,000 doing stupid things — in bad taste a lot of times too. Not only were you embarrassed by the dumb posters they did, they weren’t in the right places. We’ve been able to hire a radio promoter and a cool PR company. It’s all about finding the people who actually care. You cannot pay for that at all."

"We’re looking at the future of music a lot, and selling CDs isn’t really part of the future seemingly," Blonde continues. "So it’s kinda about coming up with really innovative ways of getting our music out there in the biggest way possible." He says the Lovemakers have already gotten more radio ads on stations like Los Angeles’s KROQ for the first single off Misery than anything off their major label release: "We thought Interscope was going to be our ticket."


Sat/21, 9 p.m., $18

Bimbo’s 365 Club

1025 Columbus, SF




Are more listeners seeking out music’s edgier tones? Edgetone New Music Summit mastermind Rent Romus believes that’s the case. "I’ve been running the Luggage Store series for five years now — last night we had 70 people," he told me. "It’s not about the hit song but about performance and performers." His fest has that critical mixture of daring performers: SF trumpeter Liz Allbee and bowed-gong player Tatsuya Nakatani, Wobbly, Darwinsbitch (sound artist–violinist Marielle Jakobsons), instrument inventor Tom Nunn, High Vulture (with MX-80 guitarist Bruce Anderson), Hammers of Misfortune vocalist Jesse Quattro, Eddie the Rat, and the Gowns. July 22–28. See www.edgetonemusicsummit.org for schedule


The noisy Boise, Idaho, bass-drum duo waxes darkly on Sea of Sand (Olde English Spelling Bee). Wed/18, 9:30 p.m., $5. Edinburgh Castle Pub, 950 Geary, SF. (415) 885-4074, www.castlenews.com


Sept. 11’s Our Ill Wills (Merge) is unveiled by Sweden’s shouters. Wed/18, 9 p.m., $15. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com


Rilo Kiley keyboardist Shana Levy charts a sweet indie pop course with her debut, The Chaos in Order (Yardley Pop/GR2). With Oh No! Oh My! and the Deadly Syndrome. Wed/18, 8 p.m., $12–$14. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com


Three number one albums strong, the tuneful Aussie rockers muscle onto the US scene with Convicts (Yep Roc). Wed/18, 8 p.m., $13. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com


The blues vocalist and harp player bubbles up with Magic Touch (Blind Pig). Fri/20, 8 and 10 p.m., $15. Biscuits and Blues, 401 Mason, SF. (415) 292-2583, www.biscuitsandblues.com


The Mission’s Jazz Mafia collectivists bring out the big guns for their CD release get-down. With Crown City Rockers. Fri/20, 9 p.m., $15–$18. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com


Love Jill Olson’s "I’m Not the Girl for You" off the SF C&W combo’s new We Never Close (Ranchero). With Big Smith and William Elliott Whitmore. Sat/21, 9 p.m., $15–$17. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. $15-$17. www.gamh.com