Season 36 of Austin City Limits kicked off this past Saturday with Jimmy Cliff. The festival that bears its name starts today so that means that there are several tapings this week. I got the chance to check out Sonic Youth last night. Monsters of Folk taped Wednesday night. Band of Horses will tape Saturday night. The National will tape on Monday and the Black Keys will wrap things up on Tuesday.
Sonic Youth is one of , if not THE, elder statesman of alternative/indie/punk rock. I’ve followed them since the late 80s around the time that Steve Shelley joined. I was a big fan of his from the Crucif**ks days. The band has actually been around for over 30 years, According to a trivia contest on their site for the La Zona Rosa show Saturday night, their first show in Austin was 08.27.1985 with Scratch Acid opening. Their most recent album, The Eternal (“Antenna”, “Sacred Trickster”, and “No Way” are stand outs), was released last summer on Matador Records after choosing not to renew on their 16 year major label relationship with Geffen/DGC records. For those of you old enough to remember, Sonic Youth played a role in Nirvana signing with Geffen in the early 90s. The two bands were featured in a documentary on their 1991 European tour that I think is out-of-print now, 1991: The Year Punk Broke. It’s a great documentary if you can track down a copy.
Sonic Youth is one of those bands that I always meant to see live, but never had the chance. They impressively re-create the wall of guitars that marks many of their songs, many of which have two bass guitars. The band is notorious for odd guitar tunings and I noticed that a lot of their guitars have tape along the head stock at each of the tuning pegs, no doubt to help the guitar techs to know how to properly tune the guitar for the songs they’re playing. I’m guessing that means there can’t be a lot of spontaneity in the set list.
They stuck mostly to songs from The Eternal during the taping. There was a false start on “Leaky Lifeboat” and they ended up re-doing “Anti-Orgasm” and “Antenna” at the end of the set because they weren’t happy with the first takes. The miscues, which I didn’t really notice other than the false start, prompted Thurston Moore to introduce them as “The Mistakes”. He said that was the original name of the band. I’m not sure if he was joking or not. Here’s a list of the songs they played:
- No Way
- Sacred Trickster
- Calming the Snake
- Hey Joni
- Stereo Sanctity
- Leaky Lifeboat (for Gregory Corso)
- Poison Arrow
- What We Know
- Massage The History
- Cross The Breeze
I was hoping for a little more variety. The majority of the songs that weren’t from The Eternal came from Daydream Nation. It’s a good album, but I would’ve loved to hear “Incinerate” or “Do You Believe in Rapture?” from Rather Ripped, “Sunday” from A Thousand Leaves, almost anything from Experimental, Jet Set, Trash and No Star or their amazing cover of “Superstar” from the If I Were A Carpenter compilation.
I found myself getting reflective about halfway through the set. I suppose it’s part of getting old. I never would’ve guessed that Sonic Youth would be on Austin City Limits when I started listening to them as a freshman at UT in 1989. I’ve seen a lot written about how the ACL Festival has really revitalized the television show by bringing in newer bands and expanding the genres that it covers over the past few years. Terry Lickona, who celebrated a birthday yesterday as pointed out by a staff member with a cardboard sign during his introductory comments, is the longtime producer of the show and deserves credit for steering the show to a wider audience.
This is the final season of Austin City Limits in the current location. The show will move to its new larger, downtown location in Block 21 at the beginning of 2011. This Saturday night’s airing features Spoon who will play the festival Friday night at 6pm, so you can get a double-helping. Local music writer Michael Corcoran posted a couple of notes about the last show at the current location. Rumor has it that Willie Nelson, who played the pilot episode, will close things out. Corcoran also revealed that there won’t be free beer at the new location which makes me sad.
You can check out a couple of shots from the taping along with my other low quality camera phone ACL shots here.
Update: According to Matt from Austinist, the Sonic Youth / Black Keys episode will air on January 22, 2011. Since they’re sharing the hour, it means that you probably won’t see the entire performance. Here’s another take on the performance from Patrick Beach at AA-S/Austin360.