live review: Lee Ranaldo/ The Men, London Scala, 6th June 2012

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I don't like running reviews with just a promotional pic at the top of the page, but this gig had the worst case of camera-phone mania I'd seen for a long time, so I didn't take any pics for fear of adding to that. 
The Men were up first, more 'special guests' than support band I suppose, and they definitely won a few new fans tonight. I expected straight forward garage punk, but they were actually a lot more varied than that, and they started off with a mid-paced tune that could have sat well in Crazy Horse's repertoire. As their set developed their indie-rock became a mix of ballsy punk with some arty guitar noodling as well. Shades of the Stooges, Ramones, Sonic Youth and Guided By Voices, so they were obviously a fine choice to open tonight's proceedings.
Of course, everyone is here to see Lee Ranaldo in more intimate surroundings than usual. As most people who read the small print already knew, the Lee Ranaldo Band consists of regular collaborator and improv guitarist Alan Licht, Irwin Menken on bass, and Steve Shelley on drums, which adds up to 50% of Sonic Youth. These shows aren't about the Youth though, and Lee's very fine recent album 'Between The Times and The Tides' dominates from the start, as they begin with 'Off The Wall' - the most immediate song from it - and follow it with the equally infectious 'Angles'. I was actually worrying that they might peak too soon!
Lee made a speech about his interest in the Occupy movement and his hopes for the non-violent left. He has an Occupy Athens sticker on his guitar and on the backplate he had a pic of the Canadian couple frolicking in the riots (this pic). He revealed that Occupy Wall Street was part inspiration for 'Shouts', which they played with Lori Singer's spoken word section included, which helped build the tension. 'Tomorrow Never Comes' followed and managed to sound even more like the Beatles in this live version, and Steve Shelley was really pounding this one out.
Lee revealed that 'Xtina as I Knew Her' is about a bunch of people he grew up with and didn't see for years after he moved to New York and joined Sonic Youth, it's also the first tune that has any sort of guitar wig-out on it, as the reflective memories of the lyrics gave way to the guitar interplay between Ranaldo and Licht.
'Waiting on a Dream' seems faster and more intense than the recorded version, mostly because of Shelley's drumming, and whilst the bluesy 'Hammer Blows' should have brought the intensity levels down, it was much noisier than the recorded version, and Lee brought out the violin bow and had it shredded by the end of the song.
There was a bit of light relief with a cover of Neil Young's 'Walk On' and then some homage to the heady days of post-punk NYC with a great version of Talking Heads 'Thank You For Sending Me an Angel' which blended seamlessly into Lee's own 'Fire Island'. They finished up the main set with 'Lost', one of the catchier tunes from the album.
The encore was a gentle version of the rarely performed 'Stranded', followed by the only nod to Sonic Youth of the whole evening, 'Karen Revisited', which was faithful to the original although the noise section took a different musical turn, maybe due to the presence of Alan Licht instead of Thurston on guitar duties. It also inspired the worst stage dive ever; inappropriately timed as the band went into the psych-rock crescendo, the poor guy hit the floor.
The rest of the audience were content to show less physical appreciation for the band, and I think for most people the realisation that we were seeing a legend of indie-rock in such intimate surroundings was enough. The fact that he played a pretty great show was a bonus.

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