Lee Ranaldo and the Dust
Club Helsinki Hudson
October 8, 2013
Review by Seth Rogovoy
(HUDSON, N.Y.) – Lee Ranaldo and the Dust – with drummer Steve Shelley, thereby essentially half of Sonic Youth – displayed one musical path beyond Sonic Youth in a terrific hour-long set at Club Helsinki Hudson on Tuesday night.
Celebrating the release of this band’s first official album – “Last Night on Earth” – the group performed a set of original compositions and a few covers, decidedly not weighted toward the new music, although including a few of the best tunes off the great new album.
A few of the cover tunes were telling – a punk-fueled version of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lover’s “She Cracked” and Neil Young’s “Revolution Blues.” Telling because, while sacrificing none of the muscular guitar attack of Sonic Youth, the Dust also favors a more pop-inflected, melodic side, quite suited to Ranaldo’s wispy vocals. That is to say, the Dust isn’t immune to Beatlesque melodicism. Perhaps neither was Sonic Youth, but the balance has shifted with the Dust.
With over a half-dozen guitars at his disposal, Ranaldo didn’t downplay his virtuosity on that instrument, which goes far beyond the sort of blues-licking showboating that usually passes for guitar-playing in rock. Ranaldo famously approaches the instrument holistically, so that he may drag the neck on the stage floor, bow the instrument, give a good hard knock to the back of it – all with incredible control and finesse, so that it is a miniature band in and of itself. Likewise, he “plays” with the electronics of the sound, too, wielding buzz, distortion, and feedback like shades of color in an impressionist painting, as he did on “Tomorrow Never Comes,” which he claimed paid tribute to Joni Mitchell, another great, deft guitarist.
“Christina As I Knew Her” was a slow, spoken-sung rocker about a girl in high school that combined a chugging, Crazy Horse-riff with a Patti Smith-style vocal approach. Several numbers, including “Fire Island” and “Lecce, Leaving” from the new album, were jaunty and jangly, recalling R.E.M., but making one wonder if that has the chronology reversed – perhaps R.E.M. learned some lessons early on from Sonic Youth?
No matter. The point is that Lee Ranaldo and the Dust is a great new rock band. Props go out to drummer Steve Shelley, who plays his kit with as much jazzy finesse as Ranaldo gives to his guitars. Guitarist Alan Licht and bassist Tim Lüntzel especially uphold their duties with power and distinction of their own.
Rock may be almost played out at this late date, but if it’s going down, at least it will go with great groups like this one.