Essential New Music: Sonic Youth’s “Battery Park, NYC: July 4th 2008”

The members of Sonic Youth accomplished two things on July 4, 2008. First, they coaxed the Feelies out of retirement after a 19-year break in order to be their opening act at an outdoor concert in New York’s Battery Park. They banked a lot of good karma for getting Haledon, N.J.’s finest out of the basement and onto a stage again. Second, the band documented a late example of a phenomenon that would soon cease to exist. Sonic Youth released final album The Eternal in 2009, and stopped performing two years later. This 10-song set, which was original bundled as a bonus with The Eternal and has now been released separately for the first time, remains the band’s final live recording. 

Sonic Youth always operated on a continuum between experimental volatility and classic-rock reliability. Sometimes the experiments didn’t work, but even when a new album was burdened with duds, the band had a great catalog to fall back upon. Battery Park, NYC leans on the oldies. Aside from one song from 2006’s Rather Ripped, everything on the record dates from the 20th century, including four songs from 1988’s Daydream Nation. But while the songs were familiar, the band played them with plenty of fire in their collective belly. The three-guitar (by this point Kim Gordon had moved to guitar and Pavement’s Mark Ibold played bass) tangle on “The Sprawl” flares like a post-volcanic sunset, and Gordon’s urgent singing on “Bull In The Heather” puts barbs on an already sharp tune. 

—Bill Meyer