Open-air summertime rock shows are usually marked by bouncing beach balls and tunes designed to sate short-attention-span fist-pumpers — pretty much the antithesis of the fare served up at this Central Park stopover for two of the more reflective bands in post-alterna-rock.
Sonic Youth, cast into the odd position of opening act on their home turf, backed off a bit from the unfettered experimentalism of their recent live sets, building slowly from quietly brooding to flat-out frenzied. Deliberate renditions of “Rain on Tin” and “Eric’s Trip” erred a bit on the side of timidity, which might have had something to do with the unusually low volume emanating from the stage.
While it didn’t get appreciably louder, the set took a U-turn at the midway point when guitarists Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo and Jim O’Rourke decided to dispense with finesse and finicky tunings and simply kick out the jams. That mission was accomplished with a one-two punch from the Youth’s youth — a scorched-earth “Catholic Block” and a menacing, inexorably chugging “Making the Nature Scene.”
Headliners Wilco moved into the hazy heat stealthily, not so much cutting through the murk as matching its unctuous foreboding. Frontloading their set with gnarled, exacting songs like “She’s a Jar” and “Muzzle of Bees,” Jeff Tweedy and company seemed intent on providing a sonic analogue to the rapidly encroaching dusk.
Tweedy gave full rein to his pensive side during the 75-minute set, which made for a mesmerizing “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” but weighed down the cyclic “War on War,” which outstayed its welcome. Energy levels leaped noticeably during encore renditions of “We’ve Been Had” and “Kicking Television” (the latter of which featured a cameo from O’Rourke).