Anyone who walked into Thurston Moore’s show at the Black Cat on Monday night worried that the end of Moore’s marriage to Kim Gordon and the uncertain future of his band may have left him in a sour state of mind certainly wouldn’t have walked out of the club feeling that way. The Sonic Youth icon was onstage for roughly 95 minutes, told jokes or stories for at least 15 of those and spent the rest of the time masterfully leading his four-piece backing band through a set of elegant acoustic noise.
Moore is still touring in support of last year’s quiet and introspective “Demolished Thoughts,” his third solo album. Watching Moore — one of the best ever at unleashing the majestic power of the electric guitar — strap on an acoustic at first feels like a missed opportunity. But any guitar is still a natural extension of Moore’s body, and he masterfully wrangled pretty and prickly sounds while weaving melodies through a relatively mellow batch of tunes.
“Soft rock is the new hardcore” was one of the tweet-worthy zingers he reeled off, and it served as the intro to “Circulation,” one of the not-quite-unplugged songs that populated the set. Moore’s version of “soft rock” places emphasis squarely on the latter half of the phrase. There were still droning jams and squalls of noise, only now the towering Moore was flanked by a violinist and a harpist. “Blood Never Lies” was representative of most of the material — ruminative, graceful and with an undercurrent of chaos. “Psychic Hearts,” the title track to his 1995 album, brought that chaos more to the forefront.
As much as the music, Moore’s playful personality was what made the evening memorable. When Sonic Youth last played in the District, in 2009, Moore was strictly business onstage. He said about as many words as he used guitars. (Granted, that’s around a dozen.) On Monday he babbled for five minutes before playing his first note, introducing the band as Jimmy Carter Youth Patrol, named after some fictitious group that policed punk clubs under the employ of the former president. He was also happy to play the role of hardcore historian. “I saw Minor Threat at a CBGB matinee . . . ” “I have a tape of Black Flag . . .” and “We were sleeping in Jello’s [Biafra] house . . .” were all springboards into larger stories, all of them eliciting laughs from the crowd. (A pair of original poems — sample line: “We have two amps, both plugged into the same strip /They face each other” brought just awkward silence.) It might have seemed like gratuitous name-dropping from anyone else, but Moore gave off more of a punk rock professor vibe.
Moore may be in multiple transition phases but you can still count on one thing: He’s always the coolest guy in the room.