Sonic Youth: Smart Bar – Chicago 1985

Landmark live album, recorded on four-track cassette.

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In August 1985, Sonic Youth were on a cusp. Steve Shelley had replaced Bob Bert on drums and they had just released Bad Moon Rising, a harbinger to what critic Simon Reynolds termed “the return of rock”, following the bad reputation guitar music suffered in the early 1980s.

Along with The Butthole Surfers and Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth reinstated the legitimacy of indie rock with their unapologetically enlarged and epic take on the genre.

This feels, in the best sense, like ancient history – stuff is being born here tonight. Steve Shelley is reshaping the Youth noise with his steakhammer percussion, and Kim Gordon’s dazed vocals are in full, aggressive throttle, holding her own between Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore’s black sheet waves of discordant feedback.

It’s mostly Bad Moon Rising material but there’s a nascent version of Expressway To Yr Skull and a rare‐as‐a‐10‐leafed‐clover instrumental version of Kat’n’Hat. Awesome.

David Stubbs

David Stubbs is a music, film, TV and football journalist. He has written for The Guardian, NME, The Wire and Uncut, and has written books on Jimi Hendrix, Eminem, Electronic Music and the footballer Charlie Nicholas.