Having spent the first 10 minutes crushed beneath someone’s armpit in a packed and sweaty Scala, it’s painfully obvious Thurston Moore still has a massive following in London.
They were still cramming them in well into the start of his set on a sultry June Thursday night and the former Sonic Youth man seemed pleased to be back in his adopted home.
By the time we’d traversed The Scala’s labyrinthine passageways to find a spot where we could actually see as well as hear what was going on, the band were already well into their stride.
Something of a Dorian Gray figure, Moore remains largely untouched by the passage of time.
Perched at the edge of the stage, he dominates proceedings, head down in concentration, or thrown back in classic rock pose, completely absorbed by the music.
Laid back and comfortable in the surroundings, he drawls “I don’t know how to respond to that” to a cry of “I love you Thurston!” from a female admirer in the crowd.
Eschewing the tighter song structures of his former band, Moore’s new sound is more experimental and free form, open to interpretation and improvisation.
The new songs are long, more like classical movements, Moore giving flight to his imagination like some kind of No Wave Coltrane.
He has a willing foil in fellow guitarist James Sedwards, formerly of Nought.
The pair instinctively spark off each other, Sedwards’ serpentine soloing, serving as counterpoint to Moore’s more percussive style.
Sonic Youth sticksman Steve Shelley is back behind the kit for the night’s show, anchoring the group with his powerful, but unshowy, motorik sound.
While bassist Debbie Googe (My Bloody Valentine) remains rooted centre stage, half -turning to lock herself into Shelley’s rhythms, she adds a thundering growl to the howling feedback from the twin guitars.
Much of the new album Rock N Roll Consciousness gets an airing, with Turn On and Smoke Of Dreams – introduced by Moore as a song about “the fascist agenda in America” – among the highlights.
The sound quality, particularly on Moore’s vocals, leaves a little to be desired, and some of the end of song noodling, or “orchestrated dissonance” as my more eloquent friend put it, borders on the self-indulgent.
But when Moore and his cohorts really hit the heights, as on the mesmerising Exalted, dedicated “to the most beautiful rock’n’roll spirit Anita Pallenberg“, there are few around to touch them.
The merest vestige of a nod to his old band comes with the final song, a rendition of Ono Soul from his 1995 solo album Psychic Hearts.
But anyone hoping to hear a Sonic Youth track or two was always destined for disappointment.
The message from this show couldn’t be more clear – Sonic Youth is dead, long live The Thurston Moore Group.