First thing’s thirst.  How much? Four-twenty for a bleedin’ pint?  The Ritz has come a long way (it thinks) from its sticky floors and pound-a-pint student days.  Now that HMV has got its grubby paws on the place.

Perhaps the stricken, shrinking giant is making its last desperate grasp for our cash.  It’s obviously not playing the long game.  But then, we will pay the prices…  It is looking a lot better, too. Granted. Not that that would excuse the extortion.  I suppose cash for a facelift has to come from somewhere.  It still can’t seem to keep any of its soap dispensers full, though.

Anyway, enough.  Tonight The Ritz is all seated-out, which I admit came as a bit of a surprise, despite the serene, reflective air of Thurston Moore’s latest album, Demolished Thoughts.  Well, he has been known to be a bit of a noisy bugger, with or without the back up of the rest of Youth.  And there appears to be a bit of a question mark hanging over that particular ensemble, given Moore’s recent split from wife and band mate, Kim Gordon.

At around eightish o’clock there’s movement on the stage and I’m wondering what kind of support he’s got.  I see a harp.  Probably for his set, and there’s a violin being wielded.  Then a suited Moore comes shambling in to view to applause.

He seems surprised that there’s a bar in the room.  He calls off to the side of the stage for drinks and then asks the audience what our finest local beer is.  Several shouts seem to go up along the lines of “you won’t get it here.”  Certainly not, Thurston.  And at four-twenty a pop.  I seethe.

There’s a bit of humoured banter and Moore and accompanying musicians strap on their instruments.  Tonight he’s joined by a guitarist, a violinist, a harpist and a drummist.  He lays down a bit of poetry, beat-style.  No bongos, though.  Then, he slips into his trademark, dissonant riffing, on a 12-string acoustic for the lengthy intro to ‘Mina Loy’, from Demolished.

As the set continues with ‘In Silver Rain With A Paper Key’, I’m thinking about how refreshing it is to hear something that at times sounds as though it should be chaotic, but is tamed and kept from boiling over by use of the acoustic instruments.  It feels like Sonic Youth without distorted squealing guitars (though, noise is good). 

This stripped-down sound lends the music an air of sobriety, but the punk is still lurking beneath. The guitars still receive a hammering on ‘Orchard Street’ while the tune drones on, mounting in pitch.  Here the violin creates the wail that the acoustics lose.  There’s something almost transcendental about it.  Though, at the end, when a guy behind me gushes, “that was spiritual man”, I can’t help but squirm.

The set receives a rockier peppering here and there with tracks from 1995s Psychic Hearts, such as ‘Queen Bee And Her Pals’ (gaining perhaps the biggest audience response), ‘Patti Smith Math Scratch’ (“our biggest non-hit”), and title track ‘Psychic Hearts’.  The latter track comes as a dedication to the man who gave Sonic Youth their first gig here in the city in the 80s, our very own Mr Manchester.

When the set ends there’s much stamping followed by the now-inevitable encore.  After a few shouts (generally from the same guy) of “play some Youth, man,” then “play some Black Flag”, we get ‘Pretty Bad’ from Psychic Hearts.

It was a treat to see the man so relatively soon after last December’s Sonic Youth gig at The Academy, which in itself was an absolute rarity.  Tonight yielded more of a glimpse of the real man, who was charming and entertaining, unobscured by the veil of noise that usually seems to follow him.  I was a bit wary when I saw the seating and soft-lighting, but I left satisfied if not a little out of pocket.  Ritz, you swine…