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Boys Are Smelly: Sonic Youth Tour Diary, ’87

BEFORE PICKING up a bass I was just another girl with a fantasy. What would it be like to be right under the pinnacle of energy, beneath two guys crossing their guitars, two thunderfoxes in the throes of self-love and male bonding? How sick, but what desire could be more ordinary? How many grannies once want­ed to rub their faces in Elvis’s crotch, and how many boys want to be whipped by Steve Albini’s guitar?

In the middle of the stage, where I stand as the bass player of Sonic Youth, the music comes at me from all directions. The most heightened state of being female is watching people watch you. Manipulat­ing that state, without breaking the spell of performing, is what makes someone like Madonna all the more brilliant. Sim­ple pop structures sustain her image, al­lowing her real self to remain a mystery —­is she really that sexy? Loud dissonance and blurred melody create their own am­biguity — are we really that violent? — a context that allows me to be anonymous. For my purposes, being obsessed with boys playing guitars, being as ordinary as possible, being a girl bass player is ideal, because the swirl of Sonic Youth music makes me forget about being a girl. I like being in a weak position and making it strong.

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We’re the Archies!

PEOPLE WHO CAN’T even be­lieve we have an audience are always curious about who they are. Maybe half the crowd who shows up in New York are real fans: noise buffs, death rockers, yup­pies who have never heard a Sonic Youth record but know who Lydia Lunch is, rock writers, fanzine moguls, and sexual mis­fits, each and every one of them dressed in black. In L.A. everyone is more power­-shag. In other cities audiences are youn­ger, mostly 14- and 15-year-olds from areas that have cable (MTV’s 120 Min­utes), get exposed to us, and, unlike col­lege students, have nothing better to do. New Yorkers familiar with Sonic Youth never consider us a teeny-bopper band, but that just goes to show how provincial New Yorkers really are. They should get out of the city more often and see the world.

A lot has changed though since Sonic Youth began in ’81. Cofounder and gui­tarist Thurston Moore named a show he was booking Noisefest. That’s where we met guitarist Lee Ranaldo and the band came together. The festival’s name was a joke, inspired by the owner of Hurrah who had said he was gonna close the club because all the bands just sounded like a bunch of noise. Nobody even knew what a noise band was. I wondered if people would be disappointed in Europe, the eas­iest place for New York bands to get gigs, because we didn’t fit the image. Next to our friends the Swans, who were very loud and had a percussionist who pounded metal, we were total wimps.

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Every Night, A Different Gig

LYLE HYSEN, drummer for Das Damen, a New York band with a Deep Purple-like zest for guitar curdle and in­tricate song structures that frame a tragi­comic persona (if comedian Richard Lew­is were a band, they’d be it), told me about this vision he had that would change the face of indie rock. Instead of the band going on the road, from city to city, the audience would tour. For instance, they could do the Midwest. Head out to Minne­apolis and see the Replacements, Soul Asylum, and Run Westy Run. Get back on the bus and drive to Madison for Kill­dozer, Die Kreuzen, and the Tar Babies. Just think, every night a different gig.

You’d be better off than the typical small touring band. There’d be no endless bickering about where-what-when to eat, all that draining decision-making. The tour manager would take care of every­thing, so you could just concentrate on watching the bands play. If the bus broke down, well, maybe you’d miss a gig, but it’s not your responsibility.

Personally, I like to know that a band has suffered by the time they get onstage. Like the first time Redd Kross toured. Out of some 30 dates they did six. They drove out of L.A. in some crappy station wagon they bought with a record company advance, and they had big suitcases filled with their gear — high-heeled sneakers, spangled bell-bottoms, poly-coated blouses — and everything got all messy and wrinkled, but a half dozen times they shimmied onstage and played their hearts out.

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Richmond, 9/14

I NEVER FEEL like we’re really on a tour ’til we hit Richmond. The wide streets feel different, slow and empty, and then I know we’ve left NYC/New Jersey/Philly/Baltimore/DC That turnpike shit is the ugliest anywhere.

“Mom, I Gave the Cat Some Acid” was the funny industrial rock song by Happy Flowers we covered tonight when we played with them. They covered Sonic Youth’s “Catholic Block” and wailed all over us, ’cause they’re so fucking cute. There were a couple guys from Fishbone hanging out, trying to be funnier than anyone else. One guy was trying to im­press me, telling me what neighborhood he comes from in L.A. He said that he could be making a lot of money selling crack, but he preferred to play music. I really felt like saying to him, “Yeah, so fucking what, I’m a girl and here’s my ghetto pal.”

Chapel Hill, 9/15  

THE CAT’S Cradle was packed and too hot to remember anything. The last time we played in Chapel Hill, ’82, it was the old Cat’s Cradle, which was filled with the kind of dreariness that comes from redneck bars.

That was our first tour, us and the Swans. Yeah, we thought we were hot shit. (We had a record out and had played CBGB, the Mudd Club, and Danceteria.) It was raining and sad as hell, and the headlining Swans played their set to six jeering cowboys. Chapel Hill is one of the hippest places on earth to play, but in 1982 we were too underground or some­thing. Mike Gira, the leader of the Swans, introduced a song amid giggles and chants for “Freebird” by saying, “This next song is about getting buttfucked by a cop,” or something to that effect. We stood around waiting to see if Harry Cros­by, then the English bass player for the Swans, who was as drunk as anyone, would feel the need to defend their honor. But nothing happened, a fitting end to a stupid evening.

All 10 of us piled into the van, and the Swans fought among themselves. Morale was very low, tempers short, and our expectations not as high as Mike’s, which is why they scream at one other. One night Mike and his drummer started strangling each other and calling each other “Dickhead” and “Asshole.” Meanwhile everyone else is crammed around them trying to mind his or her own business, being really cool.

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Atlanta, 9/16

ON THE DRIVE from Athens to Atlanta there’s this great snow-cone stand run by a six-year-old who offers a million different flavors — poppy seed or corn dog. for instance. We’ve totally given up on Athens, where we played twice and nobody came. The first time was the night Gira jumped off the stage and pushed someone who was pogoing. Mike thought the guy was a poser who was making fun of him. In reality he was a nerd, and Mike had never seen a nerd before.

We played at the Metroplex in Atlanta. As wholesome as Athens likes to think it is, Atlanta is self-consciously decadent. For instance, when my bass amp broke during the set, I felt pressured to go through the motions, pretending that sound was still blasting out, dry-humping as it were. Someone in the audience shouted, “Play some fucking noise, that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Stop complain­ing that the PA isn’t loud enough.” This is the kind of expert who will later review the show, complaining that no one stuck a drill up his butt.

Anyway, Atlanta used to have a super bad reputation as an evil punk scene, lots of kids hanging out and slashing the tires of touring bands, a real pit. Thurston tried to discourage his sister, Susan, from com­ing to the Metroplex. He must’ve thought we were gonna suck, or that he had to protect her. Thurston is really hung up about having to protect women, must be his upbringing. (Thurston and I even had a Catholic wedding.) He told Susan she’d be raped and murdered if she came. A handsome redhead, 30, the mother of four, she ignored him and appeared at the club with a camera around her neck, gasping to their cousins, “God, I’m the only nerd here!” Someone asked Susan for her autograph.

We stayed at her house and awoke to food flying around the room and babies crawling all over us. I know many people think we indulge in twisted sex and ingest massive amounts of drugs on tour, and of course we do. But I’ll always remember Susan, standing in the driveway with the kids and waving good-bye.

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Texas, 9/17  

ON OUR WAY to Dallas, we just melt, sleep, and nag our drummer Steve Shelley about driving too slow and Thur­ston for driving too much like he plays guitar. Lee Ranaldo is holding his movie camera out the window again, and Terry Pearson our sound man is ripping thru another rock ‘n’ roll autobiography. He can read one in 10 minutes. Suzanne Sasic is also with us.

Suzanne is our T-shirt vendor and runs the lighting board. Tomboyish, but with long red hair, she wears spurs and keeps her money in her boots. Her penchant for wearing glitter and silver combined with her almost translucent skin are other rea­sons we call her our goddess of light. Suzanne and I sit in the last row of the van and complain about something or oth­er or just voice our opinions in general. No one ever listens to us. It’s so far back, what with the windows open and stereo blasting, that we have to shout to be heard. “Turn that shit off.” “Stop the car I have to pee.” Thurston complains that we’re always mumbling.

Suzanne has a diet that’s a challenge to accommodate. She won’t eat anything green, except guacamole, and will only eat the middle of various foods like pan­cakes and cheese omelettes. (She hates the egg part.) Spaghetti, chocolate, and orange juice are staples. I’m writing this as a warning for all the boys across the country who write to ask who the vixen with the devastating eyes is. Does she care? No, she’s a heartbreaker. Just send obscure vinyl, After Eights, and forget the rest.

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Buffalo, 5/9

THERE ARE these kids here — the Neurotic Family Production Company­ — who have an inscribed cake (“SONIC LIFE”) made for us every time we play one of their shows. Last time we played there with Das Damen, and they’re going, “You guys suck, I can’t believe they made you a cake.”

The nicer the promoter, the better the food, the worse the gig is usually, except New York gigs, which don’t need any reason to suck. Our shows in Europe tend to be less exciting for this reason.

Switzerland 6/9

MISJUDGING the drive from Paris, we’re about six hours late for a live radio broadcast at one of those state-of-the-art radio stations. I like to think it was Car­los’ s fault, our booking agent/tour man­ager in Europe. Carlos is a tall, gangly, soft-spoken friend of ours who came into the job of booking bands through social work. (Holland gives government subsi­dies to its rock clubs.) When we’re togeth­er our stereotypes of one another become more pronounced; he is the self-righteous, hard-working, Dutch manager, and we’re the spoiled, self-centered, American rock assholes. In Europe, we’re almost always late. In America we’re pretty self-­sufficient.

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The most fun thing about having Carlos around is listening to the way he tries to shame us. “I don’t want to, I don’t want to,” he’ll say, rolling his head from side to side. He has met or heard about every wasted performer on the European circuit, and he still thinks we’re bad when we want to slop for bangles and candy. We find it essential to stop everywhere to exercise our right as Americans to spend freely. To tour is to shop. This drives Carlos crazy.

Anyway, we get to the radio station in Geneva very late, but they still want us to play, which is unfortunate. Carlos is disappointed in our attitude. We started complaining about having to do the show when we found out we weren’t getting paid. And it’s the same old story about how we’ll end up with a high quality live recording, but we already know it’s gonna be lame because it’s a dead room and we’ll be playing in front of five Swiss people bobbing their heads and smiling politely.

So of course they have a great spread of pâté, cheeses, and smoked ham. We feel like slobs surrounded by this plush equipment and stark beige environment, quiet as a bomb shelter. From the first note it’s a disaster. Thurston starts whispering obscenities over the intro to “Cot­ton Crown.” We feel like jerks, so pretty soon Thurston is swearing new lyrics to all the songs, and no one stops us. (Some of this session did end up on the B-side of Master=Dik.)

Switzerland was the only place I ever had my ass bitten by someone in the audience. I’d turn my back, and the guy would jump up and bite me, and I’d have to fight him off. When he kept doing it Thurston kicked a glass in his face. It really destroyed the mood.

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Boston, 10/18

THERE WAS A point when I start­ed getting sickened by the violence on­stage. Thurston’s fingers would swell up all purple and thick from banging his guitar. Usually I never know what’s hap­pening on stage, I would just see guitar-like objects whizzing through the air out of the corner of my eye. A couple of times Thurston pushed Lee into the audience, as the only way to end a song, but that was harmless fun.

At our first gig in Boston about four years ago, Conflict editor Gerard Cosloy, Forced Exposure‘s Jimmy Johnson, and this idiot fan named Billy were just about the only ones there. During the first sbng Billy picked up this broken drum stick that had flown onto the floor and threw it back. It speared into my forehead. At first I thought it had bounced off Thurston’s guitar. Shocked, I didn’t know whether to cry or keep playing, but then I just felt incredibly angry. It took a long time to resolve that incident, ’cause it really made me feel sick, violated, like walking to the dressing room after a set, having some guy say, “Nice show,” then getting my ass pinched as I walk away.

I blamed it on the music for awhile, because it did draw fans who really want to see you hurt yourself. It’s not that I don’t share similar expectations; there’s beauty in things falling apart, in the dan­gerous (sexual) power of electricity, which makes our music possible. But what was once a hazy fantasy has since clarified itself. I don’t want my blood to be entertainment.

When we most recently played the Channel in Boston, some kid threw a handful of firecrackers in my face. I threw down my bass and left the stage, and so did the rest of the band. We figured out what happened and went back on to finish the set, while the bouncers were throwing the kid out. I was actually beginning to feel sorry for him, probably a misplaced Aerosmith fan.

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Naugatuck, Connecticut, 10/24

THERE’S NOTHING like Nauga­tuck on a Saturday night. It was just about the last gig on the tour. The club is next to a Chinese restaurant in a shopping plaza. River’s Edge could have been filmed here. I’ve never seen so many metalheads cruising the roads. They make perfect sense, though, when you look at the barren trees, the discount store, all this desolation and quietness — you want to crank up something really loud and ugly. I couldn’t help wondering what the girls did while the boys were off playing with Satan. Maybe they also crave elec­tricity, swirling around their heads, through their legs.

I know what they feel like. When Iggy Pop came onstage in Naugatuck (or was it London?) to sing “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” Lee and Thurston were ready to rock. I was amazed that he was so profes­sional. He expressed the freakiness of being a woman and an entertainer. I felt like such a cream puff next him. I didn’t know what lo do, so I just sort of watched.

Secret Message

THIS GUY writes me letters. He tells me up front he’s been hospitalized for mental disturbances several times and asks that I stop sending messages to him through our music. Guys like this take over your whole life if you give them even a smidgen of attention. So if you read this, baby, stop sending those letters. ♦

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Thurston Moore Turns a Reflective Page at Rough Trade NYC

For Thurston Moore, 2014 was a year of wild oscillations. The former Sonic Youth frontman and alt demigod released The Best Day, some of his best-received solo work in years. But the record came out only a few months after the messier parts of his divorce from fellow demigod Kim Gordon came to light, namely an extramarital relationship. He started being referred to as an adulterer (notably, in the same breath as Courtney Love was deemed possibly “mentally ill” in a New York Post headline). Pitchfork called him “the most famous — and, in some circles, most reviled — divorcé in American indie-rock.” Jezebel simply called him a dick. 

Suddenly, it was Team Gordon or Team Moore, as though we wanted to reduce the complexity of a personal and artistic partnership spanning three decades to a reality show format. But reduce we did, and it seemed like the entire internet was Team Gordon. Even so, these tongue-lashings seem to have had a less-than-crushing effect on Moore. “A lot of that existed in the virtual world, but on the street, not so much…it’s almost exclusively by people I don’t know who they are. But when I go out on the street, it’s not presented to me at all,” he told the Wall Street Journal in October of 2014.

That attitude could be a symptom of sycophants and privilege isolating Moore — or it could be that a good fraction of the histrionic outrage tirelessly pumping through our internet tubes mostly exists in the minds of those crafting that outrage, and that most people are more concerned with the music than re-enacting the Salem witch trials.

The latter, thankfully, proved to be true of Moore’s talk Tuesday night at Williamsburg’s Rough Trade NYC, where he was promoting Stereo Sanctity, a comprehensive selection of his poems and lyrics. There were no pitchforks or angry internet-townspeople — in fact, the event was spectacularly uneventful: Before a modest midweek crowd, Moore chatted with his old buddy and sometime bandmate Steve Shelley about the intersection of music and poetry. Pretty boring stuff, really, for those hoping for a soundbite to perpetuate the “predictable dickhole” narrative, and deliciously boring for those interested in anecdotes about used bookstores and unsung poets.

Moore, dressed in a brown blazer and still sporting his babyface, was personable and professorially intelligent. He took the crowd through the stories behind Stereo Sanctity more or less chronologically, beginning with his childhood in Connecticut. The first lyrics he ever wrote were for imaginary bands, of which he was the only member. One was called Parthenon, another Lling Ston, a riff on Rolling Stone. Moore was still a teenager, and he was obsessed with music publications. He sent away for Richard Hell’s work after seeing an ad in Rock Scene that simply said “Call Hell” and gave a phone number. He read Patti Smith’s poetry in Creem. Artists like those fostered the idea in him that poetry and music could collide — not in a Dylanesque way, but out on the fringe, dangerously. Smith would put quotes from Rainer Maria Rilke in her pieces; Moore would go ask someone in a bookstore who that was.

These publications also served as “signals from New York.” Moore and another friend thought, “Let’s go see what that is,” so they left Connecticut and ended up at Max’s Kansas City. The first gig he saw was a dual bill of the Cramps and Suicide. “Suicide was assaultive, Alan Vega cutting himself with broken glass,” Moore recalled.

Moore would stay in New York, of course, forming Sonic Youth. He remembers thinking about lyrics for the band as a combination of the Ramones and Smith. The lyrics from “I’m Insane,” from 1985’s seminal Bad Moon Rising, were culled from the backs of wonderfully trashy pulp novels Moore collected. “They were one of the only things I could collect, because they were pennies on the pound,” Moore said. “Rowdy farmhands, full of sex and violence, really salient books.”

Another track on Bad Moon Rising came about as a misheard song lyric. Moore was listening to Black Flag’s Damaged and thought he heard “society as a hole” instead of the actual “society’s arms of control.” Mondegreens have always been a thing for Sonic Youth: At one of their first shows, a journalist misheard “I trust the speed, I love the fear” as “I take lots of speed, drink lots of beer.” “That was the opposite of what I was going for,” said Moore, getting a big laugh. “That’s why I’m glad to have all the lyrics collected in this book.”

Some of Moore’s lyrics were labored over; some were written “three hours before recording.” They have always been among the very best in music, and having them collected in this fashion is lovely. Moore finished the talk by saying that every song you write eventually comes true.

If one is to preach empathy, one also has to be emphatic toward those who engineer outrage. As Nitsuh Abebe put it in New York magazine, Kim and Thurston’s dissolution was like “thousands of indie-rock fans simultaneously learning that their parents were getting divorced.” Dad had cheated on Mom, and people were angry. But last night Moore betrayed no hint of a man embittered by anger. Instead he was thoughtful, reflective, and honest. Perhaps we should, once again, take a page from his book.

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Carla Bozulich

Joining no wave goddess Lydia Lunch and Sonic Youth co-founder Kim Gordon atop the holier-than-thou perch of avant-garde brutarians is Carla Bozulich, a vanguard on a deconstructionist mission for the last two-odd decades. Throughout her trailblazing arc, Bozulich has sliced and diced alt-industrial with Ethyl Meatplow and art-cow-punk with Geraldine Fibbers, dabbled in free-improv experimentalism with Wilco’s Nels Cline in Scarnella and Evangelista and has even covered an entire Willie Nelson record note for note. This year’s Boy (under her own name) is smoky and haunted noise-blues doom, and tonight, Bozulich’s worn, hoarse-throated bark will gloriously fill LPR. Ace twang-guitar jammer William Tyler opens.

Tue., Sept. 23, 8 p.m., 2014

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KIM POSSIBLE

At worst, she was pigeonholed as the “token girl” in the band. At best, she’s been recognized as a feminist and rock ’n’ roll trailblazer. At weirdest, she was the designer of an Urban Outfitters clothing line geared toward “cool moms” (Mirror/Dash, 2009). But many don’t know about Kim Gordon’s stake in art and academia, which is pretty extensive. Her new critical essay collection, Is It My Body? (Sternberg), spans 36 years of writing and presents itself as a tomboy manifesto. Tonight, the founding member of Sonic Youth presents her book alongside one of its featured subjects: conceptual artist Raymond Pettibon, who in 2013 transformed the David Zwirner Gallery into his own personal studio in order to display work in the place it was created. At the release party for Pettibon’s To Wit (Strand), he and Gordon discuss his career and the project, followed by a Q&A and book signing.

Wed., June 25, 7 p.m., 2014

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GOING FOR BROKE

To all of you who skip the opening act, a lesson: It could be the next Nirvana. On Sonic Youth’s 1991 Europe circuit it was Nirvana, in fact, but nobody yet knew of the be­flanneled Pacific Northwest rockers. Dave Markey told the tale in his tour documentary 1991: The Year Punk Broke (1992). It’s one of the genre’s better entries, also featuring members of Babes in Toyland, Dinosaur Jr., Gumball, Mudhoney, and the Ramones, for your nostalgic enjoyment. Prior to the postmortem slew of Kurt Cobain tributes and life stories, the film provides a rare glimpse of the grunge god before he became an icon, still just a kid making mischief with Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. See it tonight as part of Nitehawk’s Music Driven series along with Absolut cocktail specials.

Fri., May 9, 11:59 p.m., 2014

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Body/Head

Now that some of the hoopla has died down from another singer gallivanting around claiming some affinity for “artpop,” one of the original musicians to fuse art and pop is playing in the Museum of Modern Art. Kim Gordon, who was a founding member of downtown art-rockers Sonic Youth, has since started up Body/Head, an experimental group with the like-minded musician Bill Nace. On top of this, the program will also feature a DJ set by Julie Ruin/ex-Bikini Kill firebrand Kathleen Hanna.

Thu., Nov. 21, 8 p.m., 2013

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A MIGHTY PEN

Well-known for his ink and watercolor drawings of surreal scenarios (a bear smoking a cigarette, a cowboy riding a lion), Canadian-born artist Marcel Dzama has no shortage of hip projects on his résumé. He’s responsible for the cover of Beck’s Guero, collaborations with Dave Eggers at McSweeney’s, and the costume designs in the music video for Bob Dylan’s “When the Deal Goes Down,” to name a few. Most recently, Kim Gordon starred in a short silent film he made for the Toronto Film Festival. Tonight, he comes to BookCourt to sign his new illustrated monograph, Sower of Discord, which includes a pull-out poster, a foreword by Raymond Pettibon, three original short stories by Eggers, and an interview with Dzama by Spike Jonze.

Wed., Nov. 13, 7 p.m., 2013

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MAKE SOME NOISE

Fusing glamour and outsider art like
nobody’s business, longtime Sonic Youth duchess of drone Kim Gordon is both honoree and headliner at a two-night benefit marking ISSUE Project Room’s 10th
anniversary. After entertaining cocktail-sipping VIPs with drummer Tim Barnes, and a solo set by Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis, the actor, producer, director, and fashion designer returns with fellow guitarist Bill Nace and powerful percussionist Ikue Mori for a Body/Head set. If Sonic Youth is the rhizome, Body/Head is the perhaps intentionally heartless, but otherwise powerful, reaction to a musical scene that still has issues with wild women. In which case Gordon’s debut the following night with I.U.D. — her noise trio with Lizzi Bougatsos (Gang Gang Dance) and Sadie Laska (Growing) — should settle a score or two.

Wed., Nov. 13, 7:30 p.m.; Thu., Nov. 14, 8 p.m., 2013

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Music Fall Picks 2013

Body/Head

September 10

During Sonic Youth’s indefinite hiatus, no member of the group has made the avant-garde a focus the way Kim Gordon has. A new duo with scrape-scene guitarist Bill Nace is her main gig, not a sideshow. Coming Apart, Body/Head’s first noisy double-LP for Matador (!), is full of throttled moans and folk tunes abstracted past the point of recognition, but the sound remains classic Kim Gordon. Live, expect all her usual cool and catharsis—and more moods, to boot, seeing as the group likes to foster a multimedia vibe via projected-movie lightshows. Union Pool, 484 Union Avenue, Brooklyn, union-pool.com

John Zorn @ 60

September 15–October 4

The East Village’s jazzer-composer-rocker extraordinaire gets a crosstown blowout in honor of his 60th birthday. Columbia’s Miller Theater has the orchestra and chamber work evenings (plus “game” pieces and a solo organ recital) from September 23–27; (Le) Poisson Rouge gets Moonchild, his doom-rock outfit with vocalist Mike Patton, on September 29. Events at New York University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Japan Society round out the festivities. Pick your favorite Zorn flavor (or one you haven’t tried yet), and toast the man who’s done more than anyone to keep the downtown aesthetic alive during the condo-ization of Manhattan zip codes. Various venues

Muhal Richard Abrams

September 26

If you don’t know where to begin with modern experimental music, start with this guy. After all, it was his Experimental Band that led to the creation of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in the mid-1960s—and thus the careers of Anthony Braxton, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and many, many others. He has released essential large-ensemble albums like The Hearinga Suite and Blu Blu Blu, in addition to chamber works and solo piano essays (as on 2007’s spellbinding Vision Toward Essence).

Still in possession of fearsome improvisational skills at the piano, as well as compositional smarts at the conceptual level, Abrams drops by Roulette to offer a little bit of both during this one-night-only engagement. The first set will see him alone at the piano, while during the second he’ll lead a big ensemble of new-classical and avant-jazz luminaries that includes vocalist Thomas Buckner and pianists Joseph Kubera and Amina Claudine Myers. Either presentation, taken on its own, would make cultural shortlists during any year. A single $15 cover granting admission to both halves of the evening looks like one of the top values of the upcoming season. Roulette, 509 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, roulette.org

Neko Case

September 26

The Awl rightly calls her “a musician that almost literally everyone can agree on.” So, quite rightly, she’s being waved on into the storied midtown venue on the heels of her new album (deep breath), The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You. Even if she sings some sad songs, the mood won’t be dour—and you can count on the audience to love Case back with a pugilistic tenacity. Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Sixth Avenue, radiocity.com

Superchunk

September 27–28

Majesty Shredding got a lot of press, simply because it was such a welcome surprise. (While we’d seen classic indie rock acts get back together after a decade on the shelf, we’d never seen anyone do it with new songs, and without missing a step.) Their latest, I Hate Music, might not surprise at the same level, simply because our expectations are (appropriately) high. But even if their mastery now feels de rigueur, don’t take the band’s new songs for granted—nor their tight, catalog-encompassing live show. Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey Street, boweryballroom.com

Big Boi

October 1

Sir Lucious Left Foot was supposed to grace us earlier in the year, with Killer Mike in tow, but got waylaid by a torn patellar tendon. After knee repair, the still-active half of Outkast ought to be prepared to step into some funk on this replacement date. Special guest stars are promised, but since Big Boi now has two solo albums (one excellent, one acceptable) behind him—three if you count Speakerboxxx—he’s got the catalog to hold down a show even without Andre 3000. Brooklyn Bowl, 61 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn, brooklynbowl.com

Nine Inch Nails

October 14

Reznor’s got the band (and the brand) back together, as well as a new album, Hesitation Marks, out on Columbia. Opening single “Came Back Haunted” was the high-energy downer of the summer (complete with a David Lynch–directed video), and word is the band has developed a light show inspired by Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense in honor of their first arena tour since 2009. Barclays Center, 620 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, barclayscenter.com

Nico Muhly: ‘Two Boys’

October 21–November 14

When it debuted at the English National Opera house in 2011, American composer Nico Muhly’s first opera presented a story that felt ripped from those ripped-from-the-headlines police procedurals. (It features violence and flirtation borne of chatroom misadventure.) The music was even better, bearing traces not only of the minimalism Muhly raised himself on, but also, in one thrilling chorus, the chaos of Stockhausen. The same production team loads the attractive, digital-tech-heavy show into the grand old Met house, which seems to do well whenever it gets around to works by living composers. Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, West 65th Street and Broadway, metoperafamily.org

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Yoko Ono

Like the Little Engine That Could, Yoko Ono just keeps on chugging, drifting further and further afield of the avant-garde her late husband flirted with in the decade before his assassination. Disco, spoken word, primal scream, and noise are all flavors she wears as neatly and instinctively as the myriad collaborators who climb aboard her artistic caravan. New album Take Me to the Land of Hell features Questlove, Nels Cline, and Sean Lennon; not long before, Ono was fucking shit up with Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. Expect the unexpected, and more besides.

Sun., Sept. 15, 9 p.m., 2013