For going on 40 (!!) years, the term “experimental rock” has been synonymous with Thurston Moore and the traditions and aesthetics he embodies. It’s a shame we don’t have a more robust working definition of what experimental means in rock ‘n’ roll – one that hasn’t been yoked via irrevocable arranged marriage to noise – for there are surely other ways to experiment. But regarding Moore’s position as a generational, visionary rocker and a central figure in New York City’s great avant-rock tradition, there can be no meaningful argument.
The project for which Moore is most known, Sonic Youth, combined heavy, meticulously detuned guitar drone with an angular punk drive and, in the great Velvet Underground tradition, pop hooks sullied in sludge and downplayed with medium-to-low affect. That sullying technique extended to the lyrics as well, where Moore and his ex Kim Gordon conflated a gritty, witty street realism and an eroticized spirituality – a sensibility reminiscent, of course, of Lou Reed, but more directly of those writers who inspired Reed: beatniks Ginsberg and Frank O’Hara, sensualists like Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin and, most of all, the French symbolists Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Verlaine and Rimbaud, the 19th-century French godfathers of 20th-century New York cool. It still works.
Scratch a hipster and you will typically find a Buddhist. When he is not engaged in pure sound-for-sound’s-sake stuff, Thurston Moore still makes great rock records with long, exploded forms, ecstatic/erotic and unsentimental seeker themes and the creamy, saturated guitar tones – some of the most material guitar sounds ever recorded – for which is justly famous and for which reason the ProCo RAT distortion pedal is still flying off the shelves.
The Thurston Moore group, featuring members of Sonic Youth and of fellow friendly drone-rock legends My Bloody Valentine, perform at Colony in Woodstock on Monday, December 2. An intimate audience with Thurston is not an everyday thing, but tickets are very reasonably priced at $22 in advance and $25 on the day of the show.
Thurston Moore, Monday, Dec. 2, 8 p.m., $25/$22, Colony, 22 Rock City Rd., Woodstock, www.colonywoodstock.com