October 20th 2012 @ Oxford Art Factory
A vital component of Sonic Youth, a band whose legacy and influence long ago reached epic proportions, Lee Ranaldo’s solo career had – before this year – mostly been a surprisingly underwhelming affair, with intermittent works of brilliance scattered throughout patchy albums and inconsequential experimentation.
While there was once a sense his best work was saved for the mighty Sonic Youth, now that the future of the band is clouded however, he seems to have completely refocused his considerable energies on his solo enterprise.
The outstanding new record Between The Times And The Tides, which formed the bulk of his show, is a mighty statement of intent which confirms him as a guitar player of enormous range and expressive ability.
Proceedings began with the autobiographical “Off The Wall”, which has a jangly, almost classic rock feel, and the gorgeous, freewheeling “Angles”. With a gun band, including Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and renowned noise rocker Alan Licht, they recreated the impressively broad textures of the record, everything from pretty ornamentation to head-melting guitar workouts.
There’s a sweetly nostalgic streak to these songs, perhaps best seen on the sprawling “Xtina As I Knew Her”. Introduced with a story about revisiting the town he grew up in, reconnecting with teenage friends and acquaintances whose lives had remained largely static. It’s wistful and yearning, an affecting tribute to a “lonely soldier, just running with the times.”
A detour through covers took in a searing take on Bob Dylan’s lyrically dense “Revolution Blues”, which led into recollections of bohemian New York in the 70s, where Ranaldo drew inspiration from the likes of Patti Smith, Teenage Jesus, and the Jerks – all of the legendary CBGBs scene. By way of tribute to these formative days, he also played an impassioned cover of Talking Heads’ classic “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel”.
Between The Times And The Tides is a record that casts a weary eye over a turbulent and constantly agitated society, and Ranaldo explained how its writing was fuelled by his interest in the beginnings of the Occupy movement in New York, drawing inspiration from the famous photograph of a couple embracing in the street as the Canadian hockey riots flared around them.
The photograph now takes pride of place on the back of his guitar and the song the image inspired, “Shots”, burned with conviction. “Hammer Blows” meanwhile, saw Ranaldo take to his guitar with a violin bow and whip up a storm of swirling noise.
The encore saw Ranaldo take on what he describes as the “most tender” of his new songs, the straightforward and romantic “Stranded”, before he finished with an “oldie boldie”, the epic Murray Street classic “Karen Revisited” (or “Karenology”).
Described by at least one enthusiastic punter as the best show ever, this was a resounding confirmation of Ranaldo’s status as an alt-guitar god and a continuing force as a songwriter.