Live: Firmly On The Wall. Lee Ranaldo, Scala.

The front line laced with Malkmus-alikes, ATP passes and Neu! tees this one has every hallmark of a sludgy, furiously compelling rock show. Indeed during the final, appositely dirgeful throes of tonight's solitary Sonic Youth track Karen Revisited – a track evocative of rabid '00s mosh now ensnared solely within the virtually restrictive confines of YouTube – a lone stage diver flings himself heedlessly from Lee Ranaldo's side, quite literally flooring an unfortunate unsuspecting. "I really regret it", he'll later boozily contend from lips well-lubricated in an antithetical expression of token contrition and where meat-fisted brawl may otherwise ensue at most London shows these days the more astonished than injured party placidly counters: "It doesn't matter; it's a rock band" with a ripple of a whisper. It's the sort of shy, retiring yet considered response to an ultimate manifestation of inconsiderateness that you'd expect from Ranaldo himself and having bided his time in the shadows of protracted NYC saga his moment hath arrived. And a revisit of Karenology aside, were Ranaldo not rhythmically backed by Steve Shelley past would have no imprint whatsoever on present. And that, in itself, is presently pretty invigorating.
Thrust into squint-inducing spotlight by the shrewd enamouring of recent long-player Between The Times And The Tides, Ranaldo is all but entirely obverse to the overt virility proposed by Matador label mates THE MEN earlier on in the evening. Where they spank strings with bandaged fingers, he caresses whichever Fender he may be armed with at any one moment with the sort of compassion traditionally reserved for a lifelong partner; where they and their squiggly wires swarm the stage it's now all but entirely uncluttered, such sparsity clashing somewhat with the homely sounds emanating from it; where they purvey destruction and an essentially destructive bravado, Lee remains serene; equable; supreme.

Inevitable as it may be, it's easy to overlook the reality that Ranaldo was operating musically in New York City contemporaneously with the likes of Patti Smith, and Television, and the Ramones, and Talking Heads (a cover of whose Thank You For Sending Me An Angel exhibits substantially spirited exuberance late on) without ever even so much as soliciting the 'seminal' epithet nor similar. He may have frequented CBGB's more than frequently yet he's evidently enough brain intact to articulate what the heck it may have been like in its heyday; intrigued and enticed by rock, and roll, and all that good stuff but none of the grim junk that accompanies it: arguably a predated edition of many stood before him tonight. However if old habits die hard (and Ranaldo is rather deferential in demeanour even tonight) then with age comes acceptance and the impeccability of his songsmithery can no longer be negated: whether it be the M5-like bluster of Waiting On A Dream that's as entrenched in the essence of his native state as any subterraneous section of the Long Island Railroad or a blistering Angles that's here streamlined and strengthened without even a wisp of the Hammond organ that bedevils with excess on record, much of the show is aurally both nostalgic and new. And a new one is one thing we're treated to over ninety: Walk On is a breezy, Velvety swirl of a thing evocative of Loaded A-side that hints at a more ebullient artistic direction. Regarding his previous, it is comparable only to a typically effervescent Lost which is soon after plucked out from the ether of memory.
If all largely stylistically analogous to one another, whether it be the menacing sloop of Xtina As I Knew Her (a recount of returning to Glen Cove to find childhood contemporaries stuck in the same suburban rut, it's subduedly divulged), or a restrained and counterintuitively sane Off The Wall, or the Tall Firs-y Hammer Blows (Aaron Mullan coincidentally edited BTTATT) it's all quite captivating. What with this being a straight-edged rock show though there are inevitable restrictions – the spectacular of guitars swinging from scaffolding is all but entirely shirked – and what with this being Lee Ranaldo the plight of his backing band (Shelley apart) could not be more evident as attentions may never be less divided although as the good guy comes... um... good, it's all inexplicably mesmeric as the songs speak yet never scream for themselves. Stranded, "the most delicate song on the record", typifies Ranaldo's only limitation in terms of songwriting as his every couplet rhymes intuitively and quite irksomely ("start" follows "heart"; "kiss" is married with "lips" etc.) and when so ineluctably prominent in the mix it makes for a strained denouement. Nonetheless even, and perhaps even more so alone he epitomises and exudes a beguiling charm.