In July 1999, Sonic Youth had their equipment stolen. The theft was devastating, but the short summer tour went on. Got give them props for only canceling one show of the 8.
Sonic Youth had become a band that was deadlocked by their equipment. They had become slaves to the technology they had created. This was the best and worst thing that could ever happen to this band. Without the safety net of trusty guitars, tunings, and effects, Sonic Youth was once again allowed to re-invent the wheel they had created, and it started with the NYC Ghosts and Flowers album.
An issue of the Sonic Death newsletter stated that in late '99, the band was hard at work replacing their equipment and trying to learn how to be a band again. Shockingly, the band would do a few gigs debuting instrumental versions of new songs, "Free City Rhymes" was one of those songs with a tentative title as "1." In less than a year, the band would be able to write and record a brand new record. I guess bands should get their stuff stolen more often huh?
With all the new equipment came new tunings. It seems to me the band approached the songs in a "jam" way but flushed out all the eratic changes to just keep the simple portions of the song. "Free City Rhymes" opens with a blip intro and some lightly picked guitar from Kim. The lyrics are a somewhat description/tribute to New York City. The music itself had a floating atmosphere that some of their previous work lacks. You get the feeling that you are floating above the city seeing all the things that Thurston is pointing out. The song ends the same way it starts. A very mellow intro to a very mellow album.
The song clocks in at 7:22, making it one of the longest intros to a Sonic Youth album.
When the band played on Late Night with David Letterman in June 2000, the world was shocked to see Thurston and Lee both playing Les Paul Specials. Never saw that one coming. Plus, the 2000 tour saw the addition of a 5th member, Jim O'Rourke, who has been a collaborator with the band in the past. Not only did he contribute bass and guitar on the tour, but he also is credited as the producer for NYC Ghosts and Flowers.
This song has not been played since 2001.