November 20, 2003

The Repeat Button: "Teen Age Riot"

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Sonic Youth. It’s in the name — the sound of the young in all of their defiance, passion, and rebellion. Picture disaffected teens picking up guitars, vintage amps, and beat-up drums to summon waves of angst-ridden distortion and screeching guitar. Skeptical and non-conformist, they hang onto a single shred of idealism. You can hear the glimmer of hope at the climax of their songs, right before they stomp on their distortion pedals and keel over guitar-in-hand, invoking mind-melting sound: dark feelings too strong for words.

The lead vocalist, an extremely tall and lanky man with his head hung over his chest, grabs your attention. You find yourself watching each of his giant movements — the way he thrashes his guitar against his amp for added feedback, the moment he falls to his knees striking that single chord into oblivion. He is Thurston Moore. With him on stage, there’s Kim Gordon, a intense-looking blonde who can shred bass like no other, the mysterious guitarist Lee Ranaldo, and the straight-looking drummer Steve Shelley.

Daydream Nation is their meditation on the state of our country, and “Teen Age Riot” is the anthem of their rebellion. The eerie ambience of Kim Gordon’s spoken lyrics introduces the song, only to be overtaken by fast-paced indie rock guitar riffs quickly gaining momentum. As the song rushes forward, it becomes clear that Sonic Youth are plotting. Thurston proclaims “Gonna fight and tear it up in a hypernation …You’re never going to stop all the teenage leather and booze/ It’s time to go round/ A one man showdown/ Teach us how to fail/ We’re off the streets now/ And back on the road/ On the riot trail.” A rally call for the young, the band aims to incite and defy. Though the purpose of their rebellion remains somewhat unclear, you can feel their burning desire for change — to uproot the entire system. Their call is dangerously appealing, even if it is just a riot for the sake of a riot. It’s hard to resist the beckoning of Sonic Youth.

Archived article by Andrew Gilman