NOT every rock fan experienced the 1980s in exactly the same way. Springsteen, Prince and Madonna might have dominated mainstream pop music that decade, but there was another, noisier sound already emerging from the American rock underground, an aggressive, mind-expanding racket from the likes of Black Flag, Husker Du, the Minutemen and Sonic Youth.
Chart action was minimal. Theirs was an economy of no-frills van tours and underground clubs from coast to coast, feeding a growing audience for punk, alternative, avant-garde and "modern" rock. It was a movement Perry Farrell would tap into for his creation of the Lollapalooza festival and ultimately led to the explosion of Nirvana and the '90s grunge aesthetic.
Back in '88, Sonic Youth, a quartet of noisemakers out of New York City, was at the heart of that scene. And a swirling, charged rock song called "Teen Age Riot" was the band's generational statement about what singer-guitarist Thurston Moore now describes as a "community that we felt part of as young people then in America that was not exactly definable."
The song appeared that year on "Daydream Nation," an album that quickly earned massive critical acclaim and airplay on college radio but nowhere else. Other Sonic Youth albums have been as well-received by rock connoisseurs over the past 19 years, but "Daydream Nation" remains a band milestone, its final no-budget recording before being signed by Geffen Records.
Last year, the album was among 50 recordings inducted into the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry. Geffen has just released an elaborate reissue of the album, and Sonic Youth is currently performing the entirety of "Daydream Nation" on a tour that lands Friday night in Los Angeles.
"Art does endure, I guess, art over commerce," says Kim Gordon, the band's singer-bassist-guitarist, of the ongoing influence of an album that was out of print for a time. "That's pretty much a cliche. But there is some truth in cliches."
Yet the idea of performing the album live was not immediately embraced by the band when it was first suggested by Britain-based festival promoter Barry Hogan as part of his "Don't Look Back" series. He had already hosted the Stooges re-creating 1970's "Fun House" and Patti Smith performing her 1975 debut, "Horses."
Sonic Youth wasn't so sure. "I was adamant about not doing it because it takes too much time to relearn the record from 19 years ago, especially a double album," Moore says now. "It takes up the time we could be spending making up new stuff."
The album tracks "Teen Age Riot," "Candle," "Silver Rocket" and "Eric's Trip" had never left the band's set list for very long, but "Daydream Nation" had also never before been performed as a piece. Especially not in order.
The first concert, in Barcelona in June, "was such a rush to be doing it and to get through it," singer-guitarist Lee Ranaldo says. "After that, we were all feeling a little weird about it. It wasn't spontaneous at all. It was much more like a performance art show than a rock 'n' roll concert, because it was all so proscribed."
As Moore kept putting it, "We don't have any moves for these songs anymore!"
But by the end of that European leg of the tour, the band grew more comfortable with its performance.
"The material is really starting to open itself up to us now," says Ranaldo. "We're stretching some of it out in ways similar to what we did in the old days, but updated."
AT the time it was recorded, "Daydream Nation" was a radical musical gesture for many reasons, not the least of which was because it was a double album.
When "loudfastrules" was still the dominant philosophy among punks, Sonic Youth turned instead to the expansive examples of Husker Du's "Zen Arcade" and the Minutemen's "Double Nickels on the Dime" -- which both stretched beyond a single vinyl disc.
There was also the sound of it: noisy, contemplative, excessive, understated, shattering traditional song structures and embracing them, drawing on influences as diverse as John Cage, Bob Dylan and science fiction author William Gibson.
For Gordon, who describes herself as an "outsider singer," the album was a meaningful step in her growth as a performer. Her recording of "The Sprawl" is "maybe the first song I liked my voice on, and yet I'm just basically talking," she says, laughing. "It was a style I was always interested in, kind of Shangri-Las-ish. I always thought they were pretty radical for their time, these melodramatic songs and telling a story in a whisper."
Ranaldo compares the tour to recent reunions of the Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. While Sonic Youth, which includes drummer Steve Shelley, never broke up like those two alt-rock bands -- or ever stopped recording -- revisiting a work from 1988 has been like resurrecting the band as it was then.
At the end of each show, and after "Daydream Nation" is completed, Sonic Youth returns for an encore of at least six songs from the band's newest album, "Rather Ripped."
"All of us feel this amazing relief wash over us," Ranaldo says. "It's a really interesting exercise to play the 'Daydream' stuff, but when we come back and crank through some of the new material, we feel so much more like this is really where we're at."
What: Sonic Youth, performing "Daydream Nation," with openers Redd Kross performing "Born Innocent"
Where: Greek Theatre, 2700 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Price: $25 to $38
Info: (323) 665-5857; www.goldenvoice.com/concerts.htm