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

Lee Ranaldo and The Dust | Photo by Chris Sikich |
Lee Ranaldo and The Dust | Photo by Chris Sikich |

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.


Photo Recap: Kim Gordon’s Body / Head at Space 1026

All photos by Photo by Chris Sikich |

Body / Head, the new duo project of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, played a set at Chinatown art gallery Space 1026 last night. Fun facts discovered per Bleeding Rainbow’s Instagram: Gordon and BR’s Rob Garcia play the same guitar, and Body / Head’s Bill Nace borrowed a Fender Twin amp from BR’s Al Creedon for the show. Check out photos from the set in the gallery above.


Kim Gordon’s Body / Head coming to Space 1026 in March, and her new band is playing there too

This week in Sonic Youth offshoot news is the debut Philadelphia of Body / Head, Kim Gordon’s new dueling-guitar project with Bill Nace of Vampire Belt. The band is coming to Philly on March 8 for an appearance at Space 1026 – the Chinatown art gallery / performance space where Thurston Moore played last fall before having his guitar stolen.

With this new band, Gordon and Nace dabble in long-form, expressionistic guitar playing that ebbs and flows in ambient textures, turns unexpectedly violent with aggressive feedback, then recedes back into drone, with Gordon adding her trademark spoken-sung vocals. Think of her song “Contre Le Sexisme” from Sonic Youth’s vastly underrated 1998 album A Thousand Leaves, or the early hit (is “hit” the right word?) “Making the Nature Scene.” Live, Body / Head compliments their show with projected visuals (which you can see in the video below), meaning the crowd at Space 1026 next month is in for a multi-sensory experience. More information on the show can be found at the WXPN Concert Calendar.

Also: Moore’s new band Chelsea Light Moving plays Union Transfer on April 6, while Lee Ranaldo was just here performing the music of John Cage at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Steve Shelly, we’re waiting on you, dude.

Body / Head from Taping Policies on Vimeo.


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 →


Photo Recap: Thurston Moore and John Maloney with Speedy Ortiz at Space 1026

Last night, experimental guitarist and Sonic Youth founding member Thurston Moore played a collaborative, improvisatory set at Space 1026 in Chinatown with drummer John Maloney. Northampton, Massachusetts four-piece Speedy Ortiz opened the show; you can check out a gallery images from both sets above, and see a 14-second YouTube clip to give you a sense of the overall vibe after the jump. Continue reading →


The Week So Far: Eight must-read stories on The Key

Bing & Ruth’s David Moore on the ambient performance he brings to The Barnes Friday [link]

The new LP from The Fleeting Ends, Our Eyes are Peeled, gets the Unlocked treatment [link]

Dave Hartley, bassist for The War on Drugs, launches his sports column From The Key [link]

South Jersey pop-punks Aspiga treat us to a song from each release in their Key session [link]

Roots collaborator Truck North releases Our American Cousin free EP [link]

Does cover art make the album? We ponder this and look at some great local album covers [link]

Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and drummer John Maloney tonight at Space 1026 [link]

Brooklyn duo She Keeps Bees is features on this week’s Folkadelphia session [link]


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.