Last month, just before Sonic Youth began their Berkeley Community Theater concert with the familiar jangly strums of their anti-anthem “Teenage Riot,” an awe-inspired concertgoer yelled out “Thank you!” This interjection was right on considering the renown Daydream Nation has gained since its original 1988 release. And here it was, live in its entirety in a strange convergence of two art forms, the LP and the communal concert, like a rock snob’s dream set list realized.
After the last track, singer-guitarist Thurston Moore joked, “Now we’re going to play Sticky Fingers.” But there’s truth to every joke and Daydream has indeed taken its place among classic records by the Beatles and Stones, but also with followers of Radiohead and Nirvana, who’ve been noticeably influenced by its potent amalgam of hushed guitar shimmer and tasteful yet driving feedback freakouts.
The Community Theater’s high school-like setting proved fitting beyond the record’s opening song, symbolizing the affinity still felt by throngs of Converse-wearing indie kids. In fact, when Lee Ranaldo slipped “2006” into his spewing of years to “leave all behind you” at the end of “Hey Joni,” it didn’t feel gimmicky at all. A few years before the alternative nation emerged, Sonic Youth proved they could write great melodies if they wanted to and brought us universal, proto-slacker truths like the admission, “It takes a teenage riot to get me out of bed right now,” from “Teenage Riot,” and the realization “I’ve got to change my mind before it burns out,” from the shimmering, gorgeously layered “Candle,” breathtakingly performed in front of a curtain bearing the famous Gerhard Richter album cover painting.
Released in June, the two-CD Daydream Nation (Deluxe Edition) is a near-worthy second choice for those who missed the Berkeley show. The first disc presents the album, remastered with the group’s supervision and an eternal badge of honor for hipsters with a taste for the subversive yet conventionally rocking. Daydream is still perfectly paced, aided by the revolving singing lineup of deadpan Moore and spoken wordsmiths Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo, a contrast that worked exceptionally in its live context.
The real treat, though, is the second disc, which features live versions of each track from the original 1988 tour. A decidedly less polished set of performances than the recent show, we hear these future classics in their rough, skeletal infancy. Rounding out the set are covers of the Beatles (“Within You, Without You”) and early supporter Neil Young, whose “Computer Age” is given a bouncy post-punk treatment. In 2007, these covers don’t seem as ironic as perhaps intended, since Sonic Youth can boast their own timeless album. One listen can still illuminate what all the fuss is about.