Bumbershoot Part II: Sonic Youth

I arrived outside Seattle Center and found a parking space less than two blocks from the gate. Then I got in line to go into the gate and saw the line going the other way into the stadium. The line kept going and going. In fact, it stretched all the way across the Seattle Center grounds. I had been looking forward to catching another act before I went into the stadium, but I grit my teeth and hopped in line. Fortunately, it moved along pretty quickly and before long I was inside listening to Modest Mouse. I’m not really a fan, but I noted that their singer seemed to be trying to do a Jim Morrison with a little bit of his baritone yelp, that is when he was singing instead of yelling.

When all the Modest Mouse fans started leaving the stadium, I made my move–all the way up front to within about 15 feet of the security guards in front. Reached in my pocket for my earplugs–oops, still at home. Hoped that the sound system wasn’t as deafening as it was at the 9:30 Club, where I had last seen Sonic Youth in 1998–before all their gear got stolen, before Jim O’Rourke joined, before they released the mostly throwaway NYC Ghosts & Flowers and the brilliant Murray Street.

A commotion. Lee Ranaldo had hopped on stage to check some of the gear. We yelled, “Lee!” He turned around and grinned as he headed back offstage. A few minutes later, the band came out and plugged in. Thurston started with a few chords. “Kotton Krown.” Then “The Empty Page.” Then “Drunken Butterfly.” People started really getting into this one–crowd was moshing and some people started crowd surfing. But the energy was really good. Amazing, in fact. Then someone cut in front of me and just stood there. But the nice geek next to me (with whom I had discussed SourceForge prior to the show) and his girlfriend (who looked uncannily like Rory Gilmore) helped me get rid of him.

More incredible music. I don’t remember the order, but “Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style,” “Candle,” “Sympathy for the Strawberry” (Lee played keyboards and broke two guitar strings!), “Rain on Tin” (Jim O’Rourke got to do some amazing feedback), “Plastic Sun.” A few I’ve forgotten. Then Kim stepped up to the mic as Thurston hit “Kool Thing.” I thought the crowd had been going before, but I was wrong, wrong. The song didn’t miss Chuck D, and it had a nice moment where Kim said, “You gonna free us girls from male, white, corporate oppression? … We have this friend. She had to take most of her clothes off to sell records, her label said. Then the label said, ‘Mariah? You’re half naked, you need a makeover!’”

The band went offstage, then came back on and played “Disconnection Notice.” After the rest of the set, it felt somber and almost valedictory. This was the last set of their tour. Wind came up into Lee’s hair. They left the stage. I left the stadium and drove home.