Thurston Moore, Tall Firs – Union Chapel London, 02/12/11

Thurston Moore at the Union Chapel

There can’t be many people in attendance tonight who aren’t wondering about the recent separation of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, punk rock’s shining light of monogamy.  However, spare a thought to support band Tall Firs.  Until recently, Ryan Sawyer was the group’s third member, complimenting Aaron Mullan and David Mies’s complimentary guitar play with his propelling rhythms. Tonight, however, aside from a few tracks where Sunburned Hand Of The Man’s John Moloney (introduced as their merch table rep) joined them to perform more upbeat numbers like Hairdo, this is a subdued duet show for the pair.  The tone is positively moribund as the pair delicately play their songs about “getting wasted or killing yourself or both” to roughly paraphrase themselves.


They’ve recently signed to ATP records which will likely see them in a considerably greater number of support slots at ATP run shows (Hi Alexander Tucker!) however in this instance, this can only be a good thing.  Whether it’s a set appropriated for the chapel or just a sign of what’s to come, the mood is considerably more downbeat than 2008s Too Old To Die Young.  The pair sit facing towards each other which is fitting for the effortlessness in their complimentary guitar lines which can only come from two musicians psychologically connected with each other.  Amongst this suicide folk, however, lives a dry, gallows humour that shakes it of any feeling of self-indulgence. “When you’re closing your eyes while you play, what do you see?” opines David Mies at one point, before answering himself “I just see my hands playing the notes”.


The moment the sold out crowd were waiting for though, was for the gentle giant Thurston Moore to stroll out onto the Union Chapel stage.  It’s the second time he’s done so, and so happy is he to oblige, he walks on again after realising that his notes aren’t on his music stand and has to rush backstage to get them.  Who would have thought that the ambassador of feedback in the nineties would be standing on this chapel stage dressed in a suit with a twelve string acoustic guitar around his neck, playing in front of a music stand.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a criticism, I think that Thurston’s latest album Demolished Thoughts is a mesmerising album that shows that even decades later, he’s still a man bursting with creativity.  Produced by Beck (and not the first time they’ve worked together), there are great similarities between it and Sea Change, the album Beck released whilst dealing with his breakup with his long term girlfriend of the time.  Who’d have thought these similarities would turn out to have an even greater overlap than was evident at the time.


On this tour, his Demolished Thoughts ensemble consist of Hush Arbors’s Keith Wood, harpist Mary Lattimore, drummer John Moloney and violinist Samara Lubelski.  So as you can imagine, the majority of material is taken from Demolished Thoughts to suit this line up.  Despite this Thurston still manages to throw in a fair number of tracks from Psychic Hearts during the latter half of the show.  He jokes about trying to remember how they go, but with a full performance of the album the following night at The Electric Ballroom, you’d hope he’d remember.  It’s funny to hear songs like Queen Bee And Her Pals alongside numbers like Mina Loy, but then Thurston’s only ever released three solo albums under his own name and there was twelve years between two of those.  It’s no wonder there’s such variation, and the contrast makes for interesting listening.


The show is a hypnotic success.  Thurston may struggle to hit the high notes like he once did, but he plays to his strengths and seems genuinely comfortable with his new arrangement.  With Sonic Youth now seeming to be on a possibly indefinite hiatus, I imagine we’ll be hearing more of Thurston’s solo work in the years to come, and I’m okay with that.  Thurston is growing old gracefully, but not at the expense of still producing interesting music.  That’s the key point.  As long as he resists recording with Metallica, he’s on the right path.

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