The sunset of Sonic Youth: An oral history of the band's final U.S. show For the first time, the band members, their crew and their fans tell the story of a landmark moment they didn't realize was happening. Sonic Youth's new album, Live in Brooklyn 2011, is out this week.

The sunset of Sonic Youth: An oral history of the band's final U.S. show

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On a hot August day in 2011, the rock band Sonic Youth played a show in New York City that would be their last in the United States. Just a few months later, band members Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore would divorce, leading to the end of Sonic Youth's 30-year run. Now, recordings of that final U.S. show have just been released as an album. NPR Music contributor Grayson Haver Currin dug into some of the feelings and context going into that final show.


GRAYSON HAVER CURRIN, BYLINE: They played these summer shows in New York, and this August 2011 show just seemed like another summer gig. But it turns out two things were happening. First, Steve Shelley, the drummer, built the setlist that was, you know, had some of these songs that they hadn't played in 20, almost 30 years. So that in itself was pretty remarkable and pretty special. But also, lurking in the background, kind of unbeknownst to some of the members of the band, is that Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, you know, the couple that is very much like the inspirational center of this band, is splitting up. There's an affair happening. And most of the band doesn't know that at this point.

And this turns out to be their last show in the United States. They announced basically a breakup in the coming weeks. The band finds out in the next few days. They go to South America and play a few more shows. But, like, for all intents and purposes, this is kind of the last stand, especially the last hometown stand for this New York and American indie rock institution.


SONIC YOUTH: (Singing) Seven days and seven nights, I dreamt a sailor's dream at sea. Seven days and seven nights, I dreamt a sailor's dream of me.

CURRIN: People who were there talk about it as, you know, this sort of miracle that, you know, this moment of their life that they were there and they were able to see this because, you know, no one had any idea that this was the end, which is hard to keep clear in retrospect, because there are songs where it almost seems like Kim and Thurston are kind of like having this heated marital debate on stage, you know, because "Flower," which is a song from the mid-'80s, and Kim Gordon is essentially shouting support the power of women, use the power of man.


SONIC YOUTH: (Singing) Support the power of women. Use the power of man.

CURRIN: Meanwhile, Thurston Moore has this solo album called "Psychic Hearts." In the beginning is very much about, like, this sort of downtrodden guy who is kind of a cad.


SONIC YOUTH: (Singing) What's it like going out and no one knows what you're about? Abused and used and cut in two by hollow man with nothing to do.

CURRIN: It's this scene of, like, collapsing American domesticity. And you're just kind of bummed out about the narrator of this song and kind of what he's going through. And there's this dad that's, like, cheating. And you're like, oh, what's happening here, as I listen to these two adults seeing these songs on stage? And when you hear this tape back a dozen years later, it's hard not to hear it in that context.


SONIC YOUTH: (Singing) You're not the only girl in town, but you are the only one that's got me down.

CURRIN: I thought that might be the story I was reporting, this sort of, you know, soap opera of feelings and he said, she said. But it wasn't that at all, really. It was a band for the most part that thought they were doing what they did. And it was kind of business as usual. And learning about how that unfolded and sort of how the pedestrian nature of this moment of this concert became this landmark event, I think that's how history is made, right? We don't really always realize that we're living in history. We kind of realize that retroactively. And so it was really interesting to unpack those layers and see this thing that just felt very ordinary emerge into something extraordinary and something that we're still talking about 12 years later and now that I think people will be able to sort of cherish and put on their record shelves forever.


SONIC YOUTH: (Singing) Coming down. Sadie, I love it. Now, now, now.

HUANG: That was NPR Music contributor Grayson Haver Currin. The album - "Live In Brooklyn, Ny" - is out now.

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