Spending Valentine’s Day with Thurston Moore and friends

A distant droning noise fills the cold air as I get out of my car in a very full parking lot at the 13th Floor Music Lounge in Florence. I walk up the steps to the entrance of the club above JJ’s Tavern, and the distortion beyond the walls gets louder. I’m greeted by manager and promoter John Gulow with a smile. I open the doors, and am immediately hit with an intense vibration.

It’s Valentine’s Day; Experimental noise music, to me anyways, is the art noir of music genres — no better way for a music enthusiast to spend a romantic night.

The intimate venue is more full than any other time I’ve been here. The stage is obscured by standing frozen-in-time bodies, still and staring. I’m unable to see what I’m hearing. Turns out it’s the mind-warping sounds of Judith Pancake, a mysterious musician I was unable to learn more about. As I’m waiting in line for my PBR, I hear a “thank you” over the mic, followed by cheers. I prop up on my tippy toes and say aloud to no one but myself, “Damn it, that’s it?” I wanted more.

The audience snaps out of trance and mingles. The extremely-tall-in-person Thurston Moore and Bill Nace jump up on stage and start setting up their guitars and amps, then laying them down on chairs facing the audience. Moments later, while I’m mid-conversation with a friend, the whole room is engulfed by what sounds like a spaceship ready to take off. It sounds like we’ve landed in an alien world somewhere in the depths of space — or maybe inside a David Lynch film.

Moore is best known for his role in Sonic Youth, the indie/alternative/noise rock group that were the most popular in the ’90s. Moore, along with bandmate and now ex-wife Kim Gordon moved to Northampton some years back. Nace, from Northampton also has a noise/experimental/rock project with Gordon called Body/Head (highly recommend checking them out).

Everyone snaps back to their trance-like state while watching Donna Parker in the corner of the room with her magical sound machine. I caught a glimpse of her standing over this contraption on top of an amplifier with antenna-like objects coming out of the top of it. She moved these antennas very whimsically in all directions to produce this space-themed noise. Once she’s finished, hip-hop comes over the PA and people pick up where they left off in their conversations.

If you’ve never been to a noise show before, this is what to expect. Looking around the room at other people’s reactions, I wonder if they knew what they were getting themselves into, or if they were just there to see the dude from Sonic Youth. 

After a few minutes, Moore and Nace grab their guitars and sit in the chairs. Paul Flaherty, a musician based out of Hartford joins them on stage. He stands tall with his majestic white beard in the middle of the two holding his saxophone. The sounds that emerge from these three are weird and shaky, but fit so well together. These guitars, used as tools to produce unfamiliar noises, are more mesmerizing than any guitar solo in a heavy metal band. And the saxophone screeches over them, acting as if it’s the lead singer, producing non-vocal belts into the microphone.

Skimming the audience, I see a few people moving slightly to the scattered sounds, but for the most part, that trance-like state is in full effect now.

The lack of singing throughout the night was refreshing. Experimenting with sound and different noises to tell a story, rather than using words, is more imaginative and makes your mind wander. I left feeling rejuvenated and inspired.

Nace also puts on Open Mouth Night. The next one is at Root Cellar in Greenfield, on March 4 at 8:30 p.m. Playing that night will be Val Martino (formerly unicorn hard on), Kieran Lally (half of horse spirit penetrates), Noise Nomads, and Jen Gelineau.

Contact Jennifer Levesque at jlevesque@valleyadvocate.com.