Thurston Moore drolly referred to his solo music as “soft rock” Saturday night at the Wadsworth Atheneum, but it’s not the sort of soft rock you’re likely to hear floating wanly through the recessed speakers in the waiting room next time you’re at the dentist.
Come of think of it, some of the music wasn’t even all that soft.
The Sonic Youth guitarist, a Bethel native and Northampton resident, played a selection of songs from a pair of solo releases in front of a sold-out crowd (including his mom) in the little basement theater at the museum, pausing between songs to read poems or tell stories about his teenage years in Connecticut, which mostly seemed to involve going to concerts: seeing Kiss at the Springfield Civic Center in the ’70s remains one of his top-five shows, Moore said.
He switched between 12- and 6-string acoustic guitars on songs with lush, flowing arrangements augmented by another acoustic guitar player, a violinist, a harpist and a drummer. The combination of rich, resonant 12-string guitar and the wave-like swell of violin resulted in deep musical texture on “Blood Never Lies,” while the harp added a sharp, chiming element to the dark, sprawling “Orchard Street.”
Although Moore sang in a whispy murmur on songs from last year’s “Demolished Thoughts,” he turned up his vocal presence on tunes from his 1995 album “Psychic Hearts.” That was a noisier affair, then and now, with drums that lurched and reeled on “Queen Bee and Her Pals,” a thick layer of violin blanketing the steady beat and chugging guitars on a re-arranged version of the title track and a huge burst of dissonance erupting through the taut, loping riff on “Ono Soul.”
He ended the main set with the moody, sweeping “Circulation,” from “Demolished Thoughts,” and then returned for a three-song encore comprising tunes from “Psychic Hearts”: the fractured blues workout “Pretty Bad,” which veered from quiet to loud and back; “See-Through Play/Mate,” which Moore described as “a 1995 kind of thing” with jagged spikes of noise; and the swift, laconic “Feathers.”
Prana-Bindu, a band featuring Moore’s brother, opened the show.