Before the headliners, a rather surprising support act: Thurston Moore UK, comprising the relocated guitarist/singer and second guitarist James Sedwards. Seated and facing each other, the duo performed a series of repetitive yet subtly shifting instrumentals. At times aggressive, at others lyrical, overall there was a sense of work in progress rather than fully-realised compositions. I couldn’t help but think that this simple fascination with the sounds guitars make (or can be made to make) was probably something like the way in which Sonic Youth originally felt their way towards their unique sound. It left a sense of promise rather than satisfaction.

The last number was an unidentified punky song that Moore said dated from when Sonic Youth first visited here, for which Steve Shelley was summoned to the stage to supply typically enthusiastic drumming to support his snarling vocal. It certainly raised the energy level in readiness for the main event.

Lee Ranaldo, nowadays sporting silver hair and beard, presented a striking contrast to the still boyish-looking Shelley (The band are completed by guitarist Alan Licht, and bassist Tim Lüntzel.). They opened with the powerful ‘Ambulancer’ from the new album ‘Last Night on Earth’. Ranaldo’s voice doesn’t have a great range, but there’s an honesty in it which, allied with his gift for melody, makes his songs memorable and moving. The set continued to lean heavily on ‘Last Night on Earth’. Apart from the title song, other highlights included ‘Lecce, Leaving’ and ‘The Rising Tide’.

‘Christina As I Knew Her’, from his 2012 solo album, was, however, an especially strong collective effort. Here, as throughout the set, Ranaldo was the focal point, both as singer and an astonishing guitarist, but already the Dust feel like a cohesive unit who can deliver a recreation of what’s on record, yet with enough flexibility and empathy to take the songs into new places on the night. Ranaldo and his family, living in Manhattan, were among those affected by last year’s devastating Hurricane Sandy. At times Ranaldo’s playing attained peaks of raw intensity as though channelling and shaping that elemental force. Yet such is his mastery of his instrument, and the level of understanding amongst the band, that the underlying structure of the songs remained, like girders still standing after a twister has passed through.

One of the endearing characteristics of the members of Sonic Youth has always been the sense that, for all their avant-garde tendencies, at heart they remain fans. Ranaldo and band, after his description of how they had become obsessed by a particular song while on the road, then played Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers’ ‘She Cracked’. Suffice it to say that, to someone like me who carries traumatic memories of such compositions as ‘Ice Cream Man’ and ‘Egyptian Reggae’, the Dust’s rendition made me think I’ll have to reconsider my opinion of Richman.

The heartfelt fandom was touched upon again on the sole encore where, joined by Thurston Moore, Ranaldo announced it was in memory of a recently departed “good friend” and the quintet exuberantly launched into Lou Reed’s 'Rock and Roll'. For a few seconds Ranaldo and Moore sang into the same mic, and they were Mick and Keith or Paul and George, evoking the tradition that continues to inspire them while making something fresh and their own.

Perhaps it’s as a confidence-building exercise, both for Ranaldo as a front man and for a newish group, that the Dust played before a few hundred fans in the relatively small venue of the Garage. On this evidence, they’re certainly ready for the next, bigger stage.

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Commenting On: Garage, London, 21/11/2013 - Lee Ranaldo and the Dust

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