Sonic Youth Release 1989 Live Album Recorded in Ukraine to Aid Disaster Relief

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Indie-rock pioneers Sonic Youth have released a live album recorded in 1989 in Kyiv to support relief efforts in Ukraine, in the wake of Russia’s brutal invasion of the country.

To set the context of the concert — which was recorded exactly 33 years ago — at the time, Sonic Youth were one of the first bands of their ilk to play behind what was then still known as the Iron Curtain; the Berlin Wall would come down a few months later. But at the time, U.S. president Ronald Reagan was still calling the then-U.S.S.R. the “Evil Empire,” and although acts like Billy Joel and Metallica had made cautious forays into playing concerts in the Eastern Bloc, few if any American bands on the level of Sonic Youth had.

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As noted by Stereogum, all of that changed when the group undertook a tour of Eastern Europe behind their galvanizing 1988 album “Daydream Nation” — including a date in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Remember, Western rock music had been effectively banned in the Soviet bloc for decades, with albums smuggled into the country and sold on the black market. It’s safe to say that many in the audience that night had never heard anything like Sonic Youth’s aggressive, anarchic strain of rock.

Future Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hutz was at this show, and later told the Guardian, “Sonic Youth came to Ukraine and brought progressive thinking, chords I couldn’t comprehend; volume I couldn’t withstand. Three hundred kids walked out with their whole cultural upbringing gone to the grinders.”

Since the pandemic began, the members of the Sonic Youth — which split up in 2011 the wake of cofounders Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon’s separation and divorce — have been clearing out the band’s archives and releasing a bounty of archival material, mostly on Bandcamp, and occasionally as benefit releases, such as the two released late last year in support of abortion rights in Texas.

Sonic Youth were a wild and unruly live act and this roughly recorded show is no exception, as the band tears through much of “Daydream Nation,” throwing in some topical onstage banter (including a list of Ukrainian restaurants in New York), snippets of Carpenters records (an obsession of the group’s at the time) and their trademark feedback-drenched racket.

Proceeds from the sales of the Kyiv recording — buy it here on Bandcamp — go to World Central Kitchen and Ukrainian relief: “This revisiting of the April 14 set honors that nation’s spirit and proceeds will benefit World Central Kitchen,” the band’s website reads, “and timestamps a moment where new ears got transported for a first time.”

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