Sonic Youth took a major step when it recorded “Daydream Nation” in 1988, their first album away from the SST label. The shape of the Gotham band’s songs was more defined, the dense guitar sounds provided movement within the works rather than set a rumbling foundation and, against the backdrop of noise-bands and melodically oriented indie rockers, Sonic Youth demonstrated a fearlessness that continues to be admired today. The band played it straight through and straight forward Friday at the sold-out Greek, an unquestionable success in execution that made the folks who missed them the first time around feel like they were witnessing history.
The kudos, though, come with a key question: Has Sonic Youth, which has rarely let any composition become cast in stone, chosen to lock in the album many see as their greatest work? SY has begun to take this approach to other material, treating compositions as a classical musician would and adhering to the notes on the page.
Experimentalism has given way to professionalism in this concept. As much as the revisiting of “Daydream Nation” is a trip to an earlier time and place, Sonic Youth concerts back then were hardly album re-creations; those ’80s and early-’90s shows were Jackson Pollock-like explorations of dark and light.
The show limns only one side of the band.
Friday’s concert had its exhilarating moments in all the right places — the slow build of “Teen Age Riot,” the snicker-and-wink of “Hey Joni,” the sprawl of “Trilogy” and the determined vocals of bassist Kim Gordon. They closed the night as a two bass, two-guitar outfit with Mark Ibold performing songs from their most recent release, “Rather Ripped,” all of which sounded tame compared with “Daydream Nation’s” more explosive and winding songs. Indeed their catchy rock tune “Incinerate” sounded like a top-40 classic rather than one of the most current tracks from these experimental icons.