Sonic Youth and other movies: Sound Unseen

Sonic Youth: Sleeping Nights Awake (Trailer)

I just saw this incredible band last night. They're called Sonic Youth. At least I felt as if I were seeing and hearing them for the first time, though now that I think about it, it's been 23 yeras since I first noticed the cover of Bad Moon Rising through the plate glass of Paradise Records in Madison, not long before they played the Wil-Mar Center (a roar you could hear down the block).

What made Sonic Youth new for me again was watching Sleeping Nights Awake, which screened last night as part of the ninth annual Minneapolis-St. Paul-only Sound Unseen festival (amazing that this thing hasn't gone national--more here). The digital-video concert documentary, which screens again tonight at St. Anthony Main, was made by a bunch of teenagers in Reno who ask the band the kinds of things, and shoot the kinds of things, that a hipper or more wised-up director might skip.

The result is entirely fresh and exciting: There's pretty much zero history or background to clutter the portrait of Sonic Youth as a continuing, if seasoned, experiment in self-discovery and in repaying the life-favor of punk rock. Against the surreal backdrop of a casino setting (the band plays basketball around a jet airliner from a magic show), the musicians talk about what it's like to play this music now, and perform in the kind of handheld footage that made U2's Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky (see page 18 of that link) an enduringly immediate document where Rattle and Hum dates as something more "cinematic." The DV video footage here is in black and white, which works surprisingly well for the medium.

Three things help immensely: 1.) the fact that Sonic Youth are still such a great band, 2.) Lee Renaldo's remastering job of the sound-board recording--the music sounds so good ("Kool Thing" is better than the studio version), it should be released as a live album--and 3.) young editors apparently with film sense way beyond their years. The documentary has a rhythm as intuitively changeable and tight as the band's, though in true Sonic Youth fashion, the coda goes on a bit.

Check the full Sound Unseen schedule for other parties, shows, screenings, and happenings--this is one of the reasons to live here.



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