For well over two decades, Sonic Youth has been remarkably driven to deliver the unexpected — from screwdriver-enhanced guitar solos to heartfelt homages to Karen Carpenter. It’s somehow fitting, then, that band members would mark the release of their new Geffen disc, “Rather Ripped,” by cleaving to convention, more or less, playing the album in its entirety at this day-of-release perf.
Far from a rote reading, the band gave the new material a test drive intense enough that one half-expected to see the sort of disclaimer along the lines of “professional drivers — do not attempt.” Guitarist Thurston Moore, who’s as at home waxing improvisational as he is unskeining teasingly sharp psych-pop riffs, spent much of the hourlong set in the latter mode, cutting through the dense backdrop with crystal clarity.
Moore occasionally crossed swords with fellow guitarists Lee Ranaldo and Mark Ibold (the former Pavement bassist who’s touring in place of the departed Jim O’Rourke), making for a dizzyingly intricate mesh on songs like “Sleeping Around” and the echoing “Incinerate.” Ranaldo made a strong impression when he stepped to the mic for a rare vocal turn on “Rats,” a jittery snippet with an ambience creepy enough to live up to its title.
As ever, Kim Gordon commanded the lion’s share of attention thanks to her sinuously insistent basslines and the icy sensuality she imparted when singing the hypnotic “Turquoise Boy.” Both qualities — usually diminished by the passage of time — are as strong now as when Gordon first stepped onto the Gotham scene at the dawn of the post-punk era.
Perf’s encore provided some sustenance for those suffering withdrawal from the customary array of free-form freakouts — particularly when the players simultaneously shifted into demolition derby mode for an evening-ending “Shaking Hell.”
Sonic Youth will open Pearl Jam’s Los Angeles dates at the Forum on July 9 and 10.