Chelsea Light Moving still felt like indie-rock auteur Thurston Moore’s solo group at the quartet’s first concert last night, his three bandmates keeping a watchful eye on him throughout their show at Brooklyn’s 285 Kent. The ensemble has been playing together since at least January, when the Sonic Youth vocalist-guitarist began booking more solo shows than usual as has band’s future became increasingly more uncertain. Since those gigs, the group — Moore, guitarist Keith Wood, bassist-violinist Samara Lubelski and drummer John Maloney — has earned the identity of being one of Moore’s harder-hitting projects, by releasing guitar-heavy slow burners like “Frank O’Hara Hit” and the punky, walloping “Burroughs”. On record, they sound like some of his noisier, slightly discordant work with Sonic Youth and, as revealed in last night’s eight-song set, the rest of Chelsea Light Moving’s songs loudly follow suit.
The group was headlining a benefit for minimalistic avant-folk guitarist Tom Carter, who, while touring with his group Charalamabides in Europe, took ill with pneumonia and racked up some hefty bills. While the evening also featured sets by occasional No Neck Blues Band member David Shuford, noise experimenters White Out, and a trippy, folky set by singer-guitarist Steve Gunn, it was Chelsea who packed a couple hundred or so gawkers into the converted Brooklyn warehouse. Bathed in floor-mounted white and red lights, Moore (in a Lightning Bolt shirt!) and his bandmates’ shadows seemed to heave across the venue’s black-and-white graffitied walls, making for a somewhat expressionistic start to the group’s set (shortly after the audience “aww”-ed at the house DJ for abruptly turning off Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison” as the band was tuning). From the first song, “Groovy & Linda,” Moore seemed to be playing with some personal abandon. He scraped his left hand up the neck of his guitar in the way only he can, as he plays a damaged Troggs-like riff (he is one of SPIN’s Greatest Guitarists of All Time, after all), and his amp blasted more distortion than on the version of the song currently circulating online. When it came time for the song’s final minute or so of punky chugging, with Moore singing “Don’t shoot,” it sounded hardcore enough to be by one of his former SST labelmates.
The rest of the set contained a similar electrical energy, with everything sounding a little more ragged than that on the recorded versions. “Burroughs” started off with a jabby, wild riff, and ended with a scratchy, whammy-damaging solo, courtesy of Moore. As he played, his bandmates glanced over at him while playing heavy metal riffs that seems to barrrrump repeatedly. The group then slowed things down, slightly, for Moore’s sinewy exploration of notable events that happened around his birthday (e.g., “July 26, Jagger is born”), “Frank O’Hara Hit.” Moore played a warbling solo, Wood and Maloney looked on, waiting to see where it would go. “Empires of Time” bore a guitar riff that seems to erupt when Moore sang what may be the band’s quixotic mission statement — “We are the third eye of rock’n’roll” — as well as a seething feedback breakdown to close it out. When the song finished, he wore a Cheshire smile.
From there, the group played a foursome of songs it hasn’t yet released. The first has a big, noisy interlude and lyrics about creeping, sleeping and other “eeping” things (likely the song “Sleeping Where I Fall,” a title he’s teased online), and it gave way to a lengthy jam, likely titled “I Come to Get Wasted.” That one begins with a long instrumental introduction and eventually Moore’s assertion that “You’re never really alone.” It’s such a visceral song that halfway through, Wood broke a string leading up to the song’s shaky feedback breakdown, and when the song finishes, Moore intently watched as he changes the string. For the penultimate song, Lubelski switched to violin and the group commenced an instrumental, during which all the band members watched Moore, who dug away at his strings with his eyes closed. When he finally opened them and released his bandmates, he spoke his only words of the night: “We’re Chelsea Light Moving, and we love Tom Carter.” He then lifted a finger to signal one more.