Sonic Youth and the Feelies still do it with feeling

MARK VON HOLDEN/GETTY IMAGES/file Kim Gordon (left) and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth in New York City earlier this year.
Kim Gordon (left) and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth in New York City earlier this year. (Mark Von Holden/Getty Images/File)
By Michael Saunders
Globe Staff / November 24, 2009

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What’s not to love about New York?

For one raucous, revelatory Sunday night, the Wilbur Theatre should have been named “CBGB North’’ with its double dose of alternative rock from Sonic Youth and the Feelies. These influential New York acts have cast a long shadow over the past 30 years, encouraging countless bands to explore the fertile landscape beyond traditional guitar rock.

Sonic Youth’s set roared forward with several songs from “The Eternal,’’ an album released last June that reinforces the band’s steady direction toward subtle textures. From the first notes of “No Way,’’ the snarling, jagged guitar leads were still there, as were Thurston Moore’s boyish warbles and Kim Gordon’s tough-then-tender wails. What’s new is the larger role for the underappreciated guitarist and vocalist Lee Ranaldo, whose vocals lept forward on “Walkin Blue.’’

This is the new Sonic Youth, a band that appears to have grown past the abrasive art-noise of early albums and has tamed the familiar beast into a welcome companion. “Leaky Lifeboat (For Gregory Corso)’’ was named for the late Beat poet, but Moore dedicated his introspective version “to all the poets on the Eastern Seaboard.’’ He also gave a nod to the Feelies, hailing the openers with “Shadow of a Doubt’’ from the breakout disc “EVOL.’’

The surprise of the night might have been the stunning main set closer “Massage the History.’’ The moody down-tempo track is a fitting coda to the disc, but it became absolutely transcendent when performed live. All the aural textures hinted at in the recorded version were highlighted and magnified. The band ended the show with “Death Valley 69,’’ a nostalgic turn that sounded like an outtake from an X recording session. That’s definitely a good thing.

The Feelies didn’t sound like a band regaining its footing after years apart and punched through most of the tracks on “The Good Earth,’’ the folk-tinged 1986 follow-up to the debut “Crazy Rhythms.’’ “On the Roof’’ was taut and muscular; “The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness’’ was jangly and appropriately nervous.

The years also haven’t defrosted the estranged stage presence of guitarists Glenn Mercer and Bill Million, whose pas de deux of guitar lines spoke more about their symbiotic relationship than any awkward stage patter.

SONIC YOUTH With the Feelies

At: Wilbur Theatre,

Sunday night

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