Sonic Youth, Liberty Lunch, July 7 & 8, 1999

Sonic Youth

Liberty Lunch, July 7 & 8, 1999

The Golden Note. Heard so often, by so many -- management estimates 250,000 annually -- over the years at Liberty Lunch. That impossibly sweet, perfect note attuned to every fiber of your being. That sound that makes you close your eyes and wish with all your might that you could somehow preserve something that's vanishing into the air even as it's being created. Music. The kind not retained in your ears or mind, but tattooed on your consciousness, written in your soul. Often, it was music you lived with, listened to every day, knew by heart. Other times it was as new as the blink of an eye, a sound that made your spinning head snap up. For someone who moved to Austin in 1993, in the thick of the "alternative rock" revolution, those Golden Notes were provided by the sounds of the moment: the Reverend Horton Heat, just after the release of the Gibby Haynes-produced Full Custom Gospel Sounds of, playing on a hot night to a packed house bathed in red light; Rage Against the Machine and another packed house chanting, "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me!" Smashing Pumpkins going off like an atomic blast as Liberty Lunch employees fought to keep out those who so desperately wanted in; Oasis; Blur; Garbage; Sixteen Deluxe; Stereolab on Halloween; Spiritualized; Flaming Lips; Foo Fighters -- the night ex-Germs guitarist Pat Smear stole the show (probably every night); any Fugazi gig. Last year's underattended Mudhoney show and Mark Arm spitting out "Dicks Hate Police" during a riotous encore. And just as Liberty Lunch was always about punk/rock, so too did remnants of reggae and world music remain: the Wailers' Aston "Familyman" Barrett, Bob Marley's only bassist, eliciting sounds from his golden bass as dense as the earth's core; Justin Hinds, a contemporary of Marley's, performing a jaw-dropping, late-Sixties ska/rock steady two-hour set as if he'd been frozen in time; any number of Burning Spear shows. All leading up to this: Liberty Lunch being torn down for a computer company. Kirk Watson, you will never be forgiven. All leading up to two nights of Sonic Youth, shows that could easily have been a similar disaster considering that the 20-year alt.rock institution had every piece of its musical equipment stolen just days prior to its two sold-out shows in Austin -- booked to commemorate the dying former lumberyard. Shows that those in attendance will attest to for years to come. On consecutive nights, the Golden Note sounded from the very first chords emanating from Thurston Moore's guitar, though it came in fits and starts on the first night; excitement colliding with nerves, something that generally works wonders on hard-charging rock & roll. Which is precisely what Sonic Youth played. Yet, like old jazzbos will tell you, the second set is always better. It was here, too, exponentially so --- by like a 100 times. From the moment Moore began playing "Schizophrenia" to the final encore, in which Moore, Kim Gordon, and Lee Renaldo barked "Death Valley 69" in a way that put to shame all those other "modern rock" bands, the Sonic Youth was "on." Standing in a corner of the club, by the open garage doors through which a familiar, tantalizing breeze passed ever so cautiously (you could always find a place to stand and see in that room), I tried to commit every note, sound, and emotion to memory, knowing that this was indeed the end. Beautiful friend, the end.

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