Sonic Youth enjoys unfamiliar audiences


Sonic Youth

When: Wednesday, Feb. 27, 8 p.m.

Where: Capital Centre

Tickets: $22.50

Call: 481-6000 for tickets, 792-7490 for information

In theory, at least, Sonic Youth has quite a lot in common with Neil Young. Both are beloved by rock critics. Both operate on the fringes of mainstream rock. And both like to crank their guitar amps as high as they'll go.

But one thing these two bands don't have in common is an audience. Which is why, as the Youth open for Young in arena after arena, the group keeps getting the same reaction. To wit: "Huh?"

"I mean, we're not Neil Young, you know?" laughs Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon, over the phone from New York. "People who are there to see Neil Young are just not going to be as open as our audience. So you have to put out a lot more energy."

And then the Young fans get it?

Well, not quite. "I think it's more like the guys with mustaches and beards going, 'Well, it's weird, but I like it,'" says Gordon.

Given the sort of sound Sonic Youth delivers, that's actually a pretty good reaction. It isn't just that the band is famous for its unremitting aural assault, although on this tour, Gordon says, "We're not allowed to be anywhere near as loud as Neil."

What makes the group's music so difficult is that it demands to be taken on its own terms. Some of that is a matter of sensibility -- recent efforts include "Kool Thing," a dry send-up of the way white hipsters exploit black culture, and "Tunic," a deadpan tribute to the late Karen Carpenter -- but the band's fondness for detuned guitars and oblique melodic structures hardly helps its accessibility.

Even so, there's something about playing for other audiences that fascinates Sonic Youth. A few months ago, the band shared a bill with the rap group Public Enemy. Although that concert didn't quite draw the audience Sonic Youth had hoped for -- "It was 80 percent white," says Gordon. "We were hoping it would be more of a mixture" -- the possibilities of a collaboration with Public Enemy still intrigue the band.

"Someone brought up this idea of Public Enemy sharing a single with us," she says. "I forget; was it us doing one of their songs, and them doing one of ours? Or us doing a song, and having them overdub and remix it? That would have been interesting. But somehow, it didn't happen."

So they hit the road with Neil Young, instead. "It's not a high-profile tour," says Gordon. "I mean, there's no pressure for us on this tour. Having just played three months of our own, it's kind of nice in that way. Y'know, it would be nice to work on new stuff, or work on old songs that we haven't done for a long time. But it's no big thing."

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