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Published: 2014/01/28
by Sam Robertson

Lee Ranaldo and The Dust, Boot & Saddle, Philadelphia, PA- 1/8

With Sonic Youth disbanding in 2011, guitarist Lee Ranaldo has shifted his attention to a solo career and a new band, the Dust. The new group finds Ranaldo teaming up with Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, but fans expecting to hear the two revisit Sonic Youth material were left in the cold when Ranaldo brought the Dust to Philadelphia’s Boot & Saddle. Ranaldo and the Dust are touring behind a new album, Last Night On Earth, and new tunes dominated the night’s setlist. Over the course of a 90-minute set, Ranaldo showed off the new album fleshed out with plenty of raucous guitar jams.

Philadelphia’s tiny Boot & Saddle was packed well before Ranaldo took the stage, as fans arrived early for opener Steve Gunn. Gunn plays guitar in Philly native Kurt Vile’s band, and Vile himself could be spotted in the crowd even though he did not sit in. Gunn’s set was a master lesson in experimental guitar, as he weaved through cascading, spacey Americana, eastern ragas, and a jagged, deconstructed take on The Velvet Underground’s “Oh Sweet Nuthin’.” Despite his astounding dexterity, Gunn avoided flashy solos and kept the spotlight on his expansive compositions, patiently building textured jams with complex rhythmic playing and on-the-dime reactionary playing from his bassist and drummer.

After Gunn’s captivating opening set, Lee Ranaldo and the Dust stepped out and generated plenty more guitar heroics. In perhaps the most telling moment of the night, he declared, “How much time do we have left? 12 minutes? This one will take at least that long!” With the remaining crowd appropriately warned, they launched into “Blackt Out” from Ranaldo’s latest album, which is 12 minutes on the studio cut. As an encore at Boot & Saddle, the song soared well past that length, as Ranaldo and rhythm guitarist Alan Licht engaged in their fiercest guitar duel of the night, squaring up and trading solos and blasts of feedback. Ranaldo is the principal singer and songwriter in the Dust, which finds him joined by Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, guitarist Alan Licht, and bassist Tim Luntzel, and embrace a jamband-friendly ethic, stretching out each song with exploratory passages.

Though Ranaldo and band settled into plenty of moments that evoked the Grateful Dead’s patient jamming, his Sonic Youth history manifested itself in ear-splitting volume and furious attacks of noisy feedback. “Lecce, Leaving” found Ranaldo capping off a ferocious solo by shaking cymbals in front of his guitar for roaring feedback. At other points he took a bow to his guitar or waved his instrument around in the air to create echoes of noise. Ranaldo’s songwriting on Last Night On Earth appears to be a bit closer to familiar classic rock than Sonic Youth’s jaggedly ambitious compositions, but in the live setting, impressively open-ended jams grew into savage Ranaldo solos. While a portion of the crowd filtered out early, disappointed to see Ranaldo and Shelley onstage together but not playing Sonic Youth material, those who stayed were rewarded with an exhibition by one of rock’s most visionary and endlessly creative guitarists, along with perhaps a touch of permanent hearing loss.

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