This past Monday, the Thurston Moore Group and poet Krista Franklin shared new work at the Art Institute, and the two contrasting performances filled the sold-out room with rejuvenating and motivating power amidst the the Chicago snowfall and nation’s ever-present negativity. While Franklin conjured up these powers with weighted words, Moore’s band instead premiered a lengthy instrumental piece.
Franklin shared three poems to open up the event, each with a distinct style. The third led into the Thurston Moore Group perfectly. The poem was explicitly a call to action and reflection, and Moore’s new composition certainly allowed inward-looking and was rooted in activism.
The piece was entitled “Alice Moki Jayne,” after its three inspirations—musician Alice Coltrane, visual artist Moki Cherry, and poet Jayne Cortez—all key figures in the sixties due to art and activism. While Moore is known for his heavily improvised noise jams in his group and Sonic Youth, “Alice Moki Jayne” was much more restrained and conceptual, allowing him to explore his instrumental compositional voice and the sound of the 12-string electric guitar.
Joined by guitarist James Sedwards, bassist Debbie Googe, and drummer Steve Shelley (also a Sonic Youth alum), Moore “conducted” the group minimally, signaling new sections, segueing and stitching together the ambient and heavy seamlessly.
Opening with a minimal, reverb-drenched section, the group played to the room with no problem whatsoever. This elastic moment was disrupted by a strum of gravitas from Moore, moving the quartet into the second part.
The lush ringing the 12-strings brought to the palette were particularly accentuated by the venue—the Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room—a boxy, resonant location.
The piece was a journey through many sections—some short soundscapes, some longer fuzzy jams—each one unpredictable yet satisfying. There was direction that came from its structure, but the variety of the sections kept the work snaking and hard to pin down. Not only that, but the maintained cohesiveness was even more impressive thanks to mixed bag.
With all the false endings from the movements, the actual end took the audience by surprise, and after awe and applause, Moore leaned into the mic for his only words—sharing the basis for the piece and his gratitude to Franklin “for sharing what’s on her mind” as well as the concert-goers. The Thurston Moore Group has performed “Alice Moki Jayne” a few times, so if a studio recording happens, you’d better keep your ears open.
*A review by Izzy Yellen