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Review: Avant-guitar virtuoso Lee Ranaldo wows Boot and Saddle with The Dust

Lee Ranaldo and The Dust | Photo by Chris Sikich | countfeed.tumblr.com
Lee Ranaldo and The Dust | Photo by Chris Sikich | countfeed.tumblr.com

This past Wednesday Boot & Saddle played host to one of rock’s premiere guitar virtuosos in Lee Ranaldo. Ranaldo and his band The Dust, which features the superb drumming skills of fellow former Sonic Youth member Steve Shelley as well as Alan Licht on guitar and Tim Luntzel on bass, wowed a nearly sold-out crowd for 90-plus minutes. Bathed in mostly red light, Ranaldo shifted between multiple guitars with ease and added the visual and aural flair of playing with a bow as well as a set of cymbals.

Heavily relying on material from their 2013 record Last Night on Earth, Ranaldo and Co. fashioned a soundscape both familiar and exotic to go with the inspiration he culled from time in Italy. With Shelley’s joyously fierce drumming of a Sonic Youth-emblazoned drum set and a bassline pulsing through the floor and up one’s legs (I could feel it hours afterwards), Ranaldo and the Dust are a powerful band. And as they ended the night within the limits of curfew with the lengthy (but certainly worth it) jam track “Blackt Out,” one’s rock palate had been sated for the night. Yet the taste for more Ranaldo, Shelley, and beyond remains. Lansdowne native and currently Brooklyn-based Steve Gunn opened.

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Saying Farewell to a Legendary East Coast Venue: After 35 years, Maxwell’s closes its doors

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The Bongos’ grand finale at Maxwell’s | Photo by Chris Sikich | countfeed.tumblr.com

All photos by Chris Sikich | countfeed.tumblr.com

A rousing cover of Big Star’s “Thank You Friends” was a sincere and apt final song for the occasion last Wednesday in Hoboken, N.J.

On July 31, Maxwell’s closed its doors for good after 35 years of intimate gigs with established and unknown bands of local and international pedigrees. A full house of 200 attendees packed the back room of the restaurant, bar, venue and nexus of alternative musicology for a double-bill curated with an air of history. The first band to ever play the venue, “a,” which had not played its songs since 1978, and The Bongos, a Hoboken band of the past (and the future). As there was a dream for a Hoboken of a time gone by, there is a wealth of evidence for the spirit of Maxwell’s to continue on in bands, other venues and the desires of the public for great music.

“In a lot of ways, Maxwell’s was to Hoboken what J.C. Dobbs on South Street in Philly used to be in the ‘80s and ‘90s and what Johnny Brenda’s is to Philly now — a center of a great local music scene that brought in emerging national bands,” WXPN program director Bruce Warren said. ”I saw one of the earlier Yo La Tengo Hanukkah shows, Freedy Johnston, the Bongos, fIREHOSE; I saw an insane Sonic Youth show there. I was also a fan of Bar/None Records, from Hoboken, which is still thriving, and if one of the bands on the label were playing, I’d go up.”

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Scott McCaughey performing with Dennis Diken with Bell Sound in August of 2010 | Photo by Chris Sikich | countfeed.tumblr.com

Musicians also eagerly reminisced about their Maxwell’s experiences.

“The closing of Maxwell’s is sad, primarily because of all the essential rock ‘n’ roll memories it brings to me,” said Scott McCaughey, who played there with Young Fresh Fellows, The Minus 5 and The Baseball Project.

McCaughey cited performing “The Gorilla” on the bar, singing with Dennis Diken and Bell Sound, “any number of rabble-rousing Fleshtones shows and especially the many ridiculous Young Fresh Fellows nights, going back to our earliest days.”

Linda Pitmon, who plays drums behind McCaughey in The Baseball Project, said Maxwell’s shows were particularly memorable.

“As a performer I’m going to miss that little thrill I’ve always felt walking in to that small, square, unassuming but perfect rock room,” Pitmon said. “Maxwell’s gigs never cease to stand out in my mind. They don’t become subsumed into the blob of generic shows.”

Glenn Morrow, one of the founders of Bar/None Records and member of two bands that played on the last night of Maxwell’s – “a” and The Individuals – will miss Maxwell’s more as a member of the public than as a performer.

“I’m probably sadder as an audience member,” Morrow said. “I live four blocks away! Even more than being on stage, it was such a great place to see music. I saw so many great shows there: The Feelies, the Replacements, the Gun Club, Mission of Burma, Pylon, Husker Du, the dB’s, They Might Be Giants, Sonic Youth, Big Black, The Fleshtones, Ted Leo. The list is endless.” Continue reading →

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Photos: Lee Ranaldo at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Guitarist Lee Ranaldo, an alum of XPo Fest ’12 and a founding member of Sonic Youth, performed a program of John Cage pieces last night as part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Dancing Around the Bride exhibition. On display since the fall, the interdisciplinary exhibit celebrates the work and interactions of 20th century artists Cage, Marcel Duchamp, Merce Cunningham, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.

Ranaldo has long drawn influence from Cage – read Elliott Sharp’s interview with him here - and last night performed several abstract guitar pieces while dancers from Cunningham’s dance company performed on the stage in front of him. The sound was imaginative and somewhat mystical, mixing in audio from radio and a player piano with Ranaldo’s exhilarating guitar work. He suspended his guitar from the ceiling and played it with a bow, waved it atop his upturned guitar amplifier, swung it like a propeller around the room and allowed the air and motion the shape the sound how it would. Ranaldo performs again today and tomorrow, beginning at 1 p.m.; more information can be found at the museum’s website.

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Interview: Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo on John Cage (playing the Philadelphia Museum of Art on 1/4 – 1/6)


Lee Ranaldo is best known as the guitarist and co-founder of Sonic Youth, inarguably one of the most essential American rock bands. But his work outside of that band is just as adventurous, ranging from the singer-songwriter oriented album he released last year on Matador, Between the Times and the Tides, and his more feverish experimental work with critical voices like Mats Gustafsson, Zeena Parkins and William Hooker, and in groups like Text of Light (with Christian Marclay, Alan Licht and Ulrich Krieger ). In addition to his numerous music projects and releases, Ranaldo is also a visual artist and writer.

Ranaldo is performing several times in Philadelphia over the weekend as part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s “Dancing around the Bride,” the massive ongoing exhibit celebrating the work of John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, Merce Cunningham, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. For these performances, Ranaldo will be interpreting several Cage scores, as well as performing some of his own work.

I caught up with Ranaldo a few days ago on the phone from his home in New York City to talk about his personal relationship with Cage’s work and legacy.

The Key: Did you ever meet John Cage?

Lee Ranaldo: I saw him at a few events around New York in the 1980s, but we weren’t really that friendly.

TK: Do you recall your first encounter with his work?

LR: I think it was “Rainforest IV,” with David Tudor. It was definitely mid-70s, when I was just arriving at college and starting to hear a lot of different avant-garde and 20th century composers, from Edgar Varèse to Karlheinz Stockhausen to John Cage.

TK: What was your first impression?

LR: I would liken it to the one I first had when I encountered mid-century avant-garde American film: at first you don’t know what to make of it, and then you realize it’s an entirely new language that you’re trying to understand. In a sense, you have to work your way into a language, or into a new art form; it’s like coming to an understanding of abstract painting. Continue reading →

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XPoNential Fest: Lee Ranaldo plays an explosive set on the Marina Stage

Expressionistic, explosive guitarist Lee Ranaldo was a founding member of avant-garde alternative rock band Sonic Youth, and remains an adventurous songwriter in his own right. During a Saturday afternoon set on the Marina Stage at XPo Fest, Ranaldo and his four-piece band (featuring fellow Sonic Youth alumnus Steve Shelley on drums) delivered the musical wizardy and pop hooks showcased on his recent solo album, Between the Time and the Tides. Ranaldo played his guitar with a violin bow, broke a few strings, and serenaded the crowd with warm, reflective anthems like “Off The Wall” and “Waiting on a Dream.” Check out a photo gallery above, and see the setlist below. You can listen to his performance in its entirety here (via the WXPN media player). Continue reading →

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Listen to a Fleetwood Mac cover by Lee Ranaldo Band (playing XPoNential Music Festival next week)

Electric guitar wizard and Sonic Youth co-founder Lee Ranaldo teamed up with one of his 80s alt-rock brethren – J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. – to cover the instrumental Fleetwood Mac number “Albatross,” a song originally recorded in 1969 and released during the Mac’s heady pre-Buckingham / Nicks era. You can stream their cover below, and compare it against a live BBC performance of the original from 1970. “Albatross” will appear on Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute To Fleetwood Mac, which will be released in August by Starbucks’ Hear Music label, and will also feature contributions from Best Coast, Marianne Faithful, The New Pornographers and Tame Impala. Lee Ranaldo Band will be joining us next week for the XPoNential Music Festival; they play the Jersey Arts Marina stage on Saturday at 4:45 p.m. You can pick up your tickets or passes here; early bird prices for the festival have been extended through July 11.