On Friday night at the Empty Bottle, Thurston Moore introduced his new group, Chelsea Light Moving, as if both he and his bandmates were completely unknown newcomers to the music scene. Just some new band called Chelsea Light Moving. From Chicago. Or so he said. Of course, the New York-based Chelsea Light Moving is actually a new vehicle for Moore, who’s already famous as a member — apparently, a former member — of Sonic Youth.
The surprising news in 2011 that Sonic Youth was breaking up, or at least taking an extended hiatus, left us fans wondering what the group’s individual members would do on their own. Drummer Steve Shelley spent some time playing with Chicago’s Disappears. Lee Ranaldo released a quite tuneful and enjoyable solo record last year, emphasizing the pop side of Sonic Youth. Kim Gordon made an appearance at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago last week (which I missed), reportedly getting rather avant-garde with noisy jams based on Nina Simone songs. On Friday, it was Moore’s turn, and he played songs from his new album with Chelsea Light Moving — which is named for an actual moving company that composers Philip Glass and Steve Reich once operated, back when they need to move furniture to pay the bills.
Moore’s solo records have shown that he’s just as responsible for Sonic Youth’s melodic side as anyone else in the band was, but with Chelsea Light Moving, he’s gravitating more toward the noisier, scrappier end of the spectrum. Moore’s new songs are sometimes bring back memories of what it was like to hear Sonic Youth for the first time, when the chord progressions — or whatever those weird sequences of notes might be properly called — seemed to operate on a logical system distinctly different from most rock music. It was fascinating to watch Moore returning to those roots, even as he tries to reinvent himself. On Friday night, Chelsea Light Moving’s other members (Samara Lubelski, John Moloney and Keith Wood) felt like a backup band for Moore rather than a group where he’s an equal partner in a musical mind-meld. So, yeah, it wasn’t Sonic Youth. But then again, what is?
The show also featured an opening set by Jeremy Lemos, who plays in the Chicago drone band White/Light. This was billed as a solo set, but he was joined onstage by the other half of White/Light, Matt Clark, as well as Mark Solotroff (of the bands Bloodyminded and Anatomy of Habit), for a set of abstract hums and bleeps.
The second band of the evening was Cave, the Chicago krautrockers, who dug into their repetitive riffs with intensity.