Almost three years to the day after their last Boston appearance together, former Sonic Youther Lee Ranaldo and troubadour Steve Gunn teamed up for the start of an acoustic co-headlining tour with Meg Baird at Somerville’s Arts at the Armory on Tuesday night.
Since Sonic Youth’s untimely 2011 demise, its three principal songwriters have soldiered on in solo projects that feel like logical extensions of the roles they once played in the band. Thurston splits his time between noisy freewheeling jam sessions and snotty punk rockers, Kim challenges and channels the otherworldly with the avant-drone of Body/Head, and Lee has fully embraced his inner Neil Young. Ranaldo’s two post-SY records explore the singer/songwriter identity that his contributions to his former band often hinted at. Although the results aren’t quite as satisfying as entire records’ worth of “Mote” or “Karen Revisited”-caliber songs, there’s still plenty to enjoy.
The set that Ranaldo performed on Tuesday night, unaccompanied on acoustic guitar, contained few of those songs but pointed toward a similar direction on a forthcoming solo effort called Electric Trim with a bevy of new songs. In asides to the crowd, he spoke about influences on the work ranging from the left-field (cowboy songs) to the all-too near and present (the aftershocks of November’s deeply troubling election results). For a performer so often associated with volume and feedback, it was at once disarming and refreshing to see Ranaldo seated on a stool, singing and speaking to an attentively seated audience. I personally could’ve gone for an acoustic treatment of a few more old songs, but I respect the call to debut new material in such an intimate face-to-face setting.
For Steve Gunn, former sideman in Kurt Vile’s Violators and frequent presence as an opener for friends like Lee, Tuesday felt like a step forward into the spotlight. Even though Ranaldo was the senior act on the bill, Gunn took the stage last and played to a full and appreciative house. His solo work deals in meditative, ambling and intricately picked songs, which he performed in mesmerizing fashion amid a few moments of wry comic relief.
The whole evening was over and done with earlier than one might’ve hoped, and without the collaborative Gunn/Ranaldo encore that could have been, but perhaps they’ll work that out on the remaining dates of the tour (which stretches til January 21st in Philadelphia).
Check out photos from Lee and Steve’s sets, as well as opener Meg Baird (who I sadly caught only the last third or so of) below.