While Sonic Youth remains on indefinite hiatus, the group’s members have been quite busy with other projects. Lee Ranaldo, who played in Millennium Park in May, was back in town on Sunday (Oct. 13) for another show with his new band, the Dust — playing this time at the Empty Bottle. The group features another member of Sonic Youth, drummer Steve Shelley, as well as guitarist Alan Licht and bassist Tim Luntzel. Following opening sets by drone artist Mykel Boyd and Doug McCombs’ instrumental band Brokeback, the Dust played a fairly long set for a late concert on a Sunday night, more than 90 minutes, stretching past 1 a.m., but it was worth staying around for the end. The group really got into a groove in that final half-hour, including a cool encore cover of the Modern Lovers’ “She Cracked.”
Despite unseasonably chilly temperatures, the summer concert season got off to a stellar start May 27, with the year’s first show in the Monday night series called “Downtown Sound” at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.
The evening started with Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, a trio led by the highly esteemed guitarist. I’ve admired Ribot’s distinctive playing ever since I heard him on the 1985 Tom Waits masterpiece Rain Dogs. He went on to play on several more Waits albums as well as records by Elvis Costello, John Zorn and others. This was the first time I’d ever seen him perform in concert. Ribot really let his fingers fly at many points during Monday’s set, but he also led his group through the droning textures of a piece aptly called “Prayer.” Ribot was less successful as a singer, whenever he occasionally barked out some words. But it was marvelous to see him twisting notes on his guitar into gnarly, spiky solos.
The headliner had been billed ahead of time as the Lee Ranaldo Band, but by the time they were introduced, they were calling themselves Lee Ranado and the Dust. It’s half of Sonic Youth — Ranaldo on guitar and vocals and Steve Shelley on drums — along with guitarist Alan Licht and bassist Tim Luntzel. Of all the music released by Sonic Youth’s members since the band went on hiatus, Ranaldo’s 2012 album Between the Times and Tides is the strongest and most accessible work. And that came through during this concert performance, with a slew of catchy choruses and smartly constructed riffs.
Ranaldo and the Dust also played a few songs that the band is working on for its next record, as well as a somewhat surprising choice for a cover: the Byrds song “Everybody’s Been Burned,” written by David Crosby. Jamming out with Shelley and their new bandmates, Ranaldo seemed completely confident in his new role as a frontman.
Check out the rest of the schedule for this summer’s Downtown Sound concerts.