15 Sonic Youth Opening Acts Who Made It Huge


Summertime means weird street smells, rooftop barbecues, and the inevitable Sonic Youth tour. And if the past is any guide, you can expect to see some of the most interesting opening bands on the circuit. This year’s acts include The Entrance Band, Awesome Color, Endless Boogie (DC only) and Kurt Vile (Philadelphia only). Not sure you care? We’ve got 15 big reasons why you should.

1. 1982 – Swans

Sonic Youth’s first full-scale tour with an early pre-Jarboe incarnation of Swans.

2. January 19, 1985 in Seattle – Green River

SY meets grunge for the first time, in a show with pre-Mudhoney Mark Arm and Steve Turner. The band later quotes Green River’s “Come on Down” in its (also grunge-referencing) single “Nevermind (What Was it Anyway)”.

3. 1986 – Dinosaur (not even Jr. yet)

The beginning of a beautiful friendship between two of 1980’s loudest, most distorted guitar bands.

4. 1987 – FIREHOSe

Mike Watt joins the band on bass for “Starpower” throughout the tour. Also (probably unintentionally) on vox for “Providence”, with the lines, “Thurston! Watt! Thurston! I think it’s ten thirty, we’re calling from Providence, Rhode Island. Did you find your shit?”

5. September 1987, Dallas Texas – The Flaming Lips

A late show, starting at 2 a.m. Flaming Lips doesn’t even appear on the bill.

6. 1987 – Lunachicks

Kim and Thurston turn up at the noise punk band’s second gig in 1987. By early 1988, Lunachicks were opening the shows where Sonic Youth debuted material from Daydream Nation.

7. 1990 – Nirvana

August 16, 1990 at Las Vegas’ Calamity Jane, Sonic Youth plays its first show with Nirvana; the band has just completed a follow-up to its debut Bleach. With the help of Sonic Youth, Nirvana signs to Geffen at about this time, and releases its number-one selling Nevermind a year later.

8. Late 1992 – Pavement

Sonic Youth acts as midwife to the birth of indie rock, as it takes Pavement on the road in The Pretty Fucking Dirty tour. Pavement brings the slacked out tunes of Slanted and Enchanted to the masses… and introduces SY to its future bass player, Mark Ibold.

9. October 24, 1992 at the Roseland – Boredoms

Japanese noise freakers the Boredoms break from recording sessions with John Zorn to join Sonic Youth for a few shows, including this one in NYC, where P-Wei and J. Mascis join the youth for “Nic Fit” and “No Part II”.

10. 1995 – Bikini Kill

SY’s relationship with the riot grrl pioneers is documented in the band’s punk rocking “Thurston Hearts the Who”, which may or may not be a tribute. (Lyrics like “If Sonic Youth thinks you’re cool does that mean everything/to you?” seem a little snide.)

11. 1998 – The Ex

Sonic Youth played some of its very first shows in Holland with the Ex, then invited them along for the Midwestern leg of its 1998 A Thousand Leaves tour. Later the two bands collaborated on one of Koncurrent’s “In the Fishtank” series.

12. 2000 – Stereolab

Two of rock’s most commercially successful experimenters join forces for US and European shows. NME calls Sonic Youth the winner, stating: “Though the Sonics lack the groove propulsion of Stereolab, their dynamics and spacey, dissonant shrieking are unmatchable…”

13. 2000 – The Gossip

Sonic Youth is sometimes way cooler than its audience. Witness guitarist Brace Pain’s account of his band’s contentious opening slot in this 2004 interview. “There were people there who hated us… And these people were calling Beth a fat ass and yelling at me, ‘Tune your guitar.'” Oy.

14. 2002, 2003 – Liars

I saw one of these shows (with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs opening) at the end of 2003, and it was one of the best live experiences of my life — Liars still in post-punk, apocalyptic funk mode, Angus prowling the stage in rock-star jeans, Aaron hunched over the electronics like a chemistry post-grad student rigging and experiment. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs opened (Karen O and Angus were still an item then), and Sonic Youth closed things out, obliterating some very keen competition with Murray Street fueled psychedelic guitar overload.

15. July 4, 2008 – Feelies

The Feelies’ first string of concerts in decades started at Maxwell’s in New Jersey, but culminated at the lower end of Manhattan on the 4th of July with Sonic Youth. Mercer & co. tried out a couple of new songs, revisited old favorites like “Crazy Rhythms” and “Fa Ce La”, and eased its way into a reconnection with fans after many years of hiatus.

Thanks and kudos to The Sonic Youth Concert Chronology, for its exhaustive list of SY shows and to the SY Live Recording Database for hours of audio recordings.