The show unintentionally serves as a broad overview of Sonic Youth’s remarkable career.
Sonic Youth only had one album left in them when they played Battery Park in July 2008. No one knew that yet, and their breakup was still a few years away. The show unintentionally serves as a broad overview of their remarkable career, but it also points to how exciting they were when they ended, even if it has only a loose connection with their final record, 2009’s The Eternal. Battery Park, NYC: July 4, 2008, made up of performances taken from that concert, was originally released as a bonus along with that album, and only now gets its official standalone release. This reissue makes a special treat available again and recaptures the energy that Sonic Youth brought to their live show.
The disc opens not with anything from the band’s previous run of strong albums, but with the unlikely “She Is Not Alone” from their debut EP. The track also opened the concert (the setlist is considerably shuffled for the disc), an odd but compelling choice. It’s spare and patient, and though it lacks the layered crush of guitars and noise that the group would be known for, it has a certain ominous appeal. From there the group transitions smoothly into “The Sprawl,” and the show doesn’t let up from that point.
Including that track, the live set taps four songs from Daydream Nation, each of which gets energized performances. Following “Hey Joni,” the band hits two-thirds of that album’s closing trilogy, playing “The Wonder” and “Hyperstation” while oddly ignoring “Eliminator Jr.” The band nears peak intensity for these numbers, letting the spacey unwinding at the end of the sequence make for a brief pause before a shift into “Bull in the Heather,” a track that can hardly be called overlooked anymore given how much attention it gets for being forgotten. Kim Gordon’s vocals here, as elsewhere across the disc, deserve extra attention.
The disc only includes one track from more recent releases, a stringy performance of Rather Ripped‘s “Jams Run Free,” and it ends with two older, weirder cuts. “100%” from Dirty returns us to the noisier sound of the group, and “Making the Nature Scene” reaches all the way back to the grating sound of Confusion Is Sex. If the band wanted to go out with a show representative of where they’d come from, they could have done worse, highlighting their most acclaimed and accessible album without ignoring the underground sounds they built on.
That July 4 show changes up their touring setlist from the year, which did focus more on Rather Ripped. It didn’t point to what was yet to come, notably the more song-focused The Eternal, unless you consider the drive captured here as inherent to the rock sessions from fall 2008 that would lead to the album. The show even less pointed to a band nearing its conclusion. In summer 2008, Sonic Youth blasted as hard as ever, with a smart setlist that put a large, diverse catalog into a coherent show. The group’s members have spent the last decade making valuable solo material, but, even so, this disc suggests that a little more archival digging wouldn’t be a bad thing.