A few months ago I was delighted to learn that Sonic Youth would be releasing a recording of their concert at the Smart Bar from August of 1985—which happened to be the first time I ever saw the band play live. That show remains one my most transcendent concertgoing experiences—I vividly remember being transfixed and spending the hours after the show in a state of bliss and awestruck stupor. I had never seen or heard anything like it before.
For some reason I had always thought that Sonic Youth had played Chicago before that show, as part of their 1982 “Savage Blunder” tour with Swans, but according to the band’s anal performance history the Smart Bar show was actually their first gig in town. The group was touring in support of Bad Moon Rising, which Homestead had released earlier in the year, and it marked one of the band’s first performances with drummer Steve Shelley (ex-Crucifucks), who replaced Bob Bert. As Smart Bar, Chicago 1985 (Goofin’), released two weeks ago, makes plain, the band wove its songs together seamlessly, with resonant guitar drones, and, sometimes, noise collages played from a cassette Walkman (both of which allowed Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo to draw from their array of custom-tuned guitars without interruption), into lengthy suites, with one tune blending into the next. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I distinctly recall being spellbound by the contiguous web of sound and blown away by the visceral power.