Review – Lee Ranaldo and The Dust at Biltmore Cabaret, Dec 7
– by Ria Nevada
On his most recent release, Lee Ranaldo contemplates the Last Night on Earth. You can bet that a good number of diehard fans at the Biltmore on Saturday night would happily spend the apocalypse rocking out to the groundbreaking Sonic Youth guitarist and his touring band The Dust, which includes SY drummer Steve Shelley. The venue was filled with an alternative, thirty-to-fortysomething crowd, all gobsmacked from watching these legends at work.
Everyone clambered into the toasty venue early on to catch opener Chris Brokaw. A renowned indie fixture himself, Brokaw was a driving force behind influential ’90s slowcore bands Come and Codeine. Between composing film scores, putting together his own solo albums including 2012’s celebrated Gambler’s Ecstasy, and running his label Capitan Records, the musician made the trip up from Seattle for a one-off show to support his long-time friends. Poignant and minimalistic melodies, paired with his smooth, earthy vocals and crackling guitars, characterize his recent songwriting. Tracks like “Periscope Twins” and the unconventional lullaby “Anacordia” are perfect examples of this progression.
Without any prodding, the entire audience huddled up by the stage for Lee Ranaldo and the Dust. A couple of gentlemen next to me looked like they were about to jump out of their skin when the band approached. Leading the group on stage, the frontman was all smiles and radiated a warm, welcoming energy.
Starting with the upbeat “Waiting On a Dream” and moving on to “Ambulancer”, the band made it clear in these first few numbers that Ranaldo’s latest work reflects more ’60s and ’70s pop sensibilities than the challenging, frictional, even foreboding arrangements from his first solo record From Here to Infinity.
Most of the songs from the set felt like wistful numbers you’d swoon to on a pleasure cruise, particularly “Key/Hole” and “The Rising Tide”. But then Ranaldo and Shelley, with Tim Luntzel on bass and Alan Licht on guitar, would suddenly break into avant-garde solos that would take the crowd on a completely different ride. We moved back and forth between being floored by Ranaldo extracting infinite harmonics by grinding his electric guitar with a violin bow, then being lulled into comfort by his youthful voice and revelatory lyrics.
These newer, chirpier tracks may not be his most significant artistic contributions, but they absolutely reflect the multitalented and optimistic qualities that have made him an indie idol.
Set list – Lee Ranaldo at the Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver, Dec 7 2013:
Waiting on a Dream
Xtina as I Knew Her
Off the Wall
Last Night on Earth
The Rising Tide