The guys in No Age could feel the train coming several years ago when they were in the studio of their artist friend Doug Aitken, whom they've worked with on multiple projects.
"Doug had this bulletin board up when we first met about the 'Black Mirror' [arts barge video installation], and we saw this train and we were like, 'Wow, if you ever end up doing a train tour we'd love to do it,' " says guitarist Randy Randall. "Three years later, here we are."
"Station to Station: A Nomadic Happening" pulls into town Sunday as an indie-rock and art show fashioned after '60s-style Happenings. Dubbed "a moving platform for artistic experimentation," it makes its second stop at Union Station/The Pennsylvanian, Downtown, with No Age, Thurston Moore & John Moloney/Caught on Tape, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Kansas City Marching Cobras, and YOSHIMIO + Hisham Akira Bharoocha + Ryan Sawyer TRIO.
The visual artists include Francis Alys, Taylor Ruth Baldwin, Dara Birnbaum, Fischli & Weiss, Yayoi Kusama, Catherine Opie, Nam June Paik, Raymond Pettibon, Ed Ruscha and Roman Signer.
The project, supported by Levi's, will share money from ticket sales and donations with its partner institutions, including the Carnegie Museum of Art, through the Station to Station Cultural Fund, which supports nontraditional programming.
No Age, an acclaimed LA duo known for its experimental punk/noise assault and DIY aesthetic, is part of all but one show on the tour, which rolls from New York to LA in three weeks. For No Age, this won't be like the communal experience of The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, etc., on the Festival Express train in 1970, as the duo will be chasing the train in its own van.
"We wanted to be part of the train experience," Mr. Randall says, "but we also wanted to do more than nine shows. So we made it a hybrid and meshed our tour with the Station to Station thing."
The concert here puts No Age on a bill with Thurson Moore, of Sonic Youth, often cited as a big inspiration for the duo.
"Dean [Spunt] and I never had a direct conversation like, 'That one Sonic Youth album, we want to sound like that.' It's never been a conscious decision. But growing up, Sonic Youth was my first experience with kind of radical music, and they're a huge influence on me and what I bring to the band."
No Age is touring on its newly released fourth album, "An Object," which found the pair pushing through a writing slump by moving away from its thrashy dream-rock songs into more minimal, fragmented territory.
"Dean was attempting to go out of his way to create these new and experimental forms of percussion -- with the contact mic and micing the amp that he put the contact mic through -- and challenging the idea of what percussion can be in No Age. So I had to think of how I would play guitar to these new ideas. We shook the snow globe and it sort of landed somewhere else. We wanted to put something out that sounded like it came from a real place instead of phoning it in. It's closer to what our original mission statement was as a band, to be unique and unconventional."
Working with Grammy-nominated designer Brian Roettinger, the duo went the extra step of printing and assembling the 10,000 CD/LP packages by hand. Mr. Randall admits that he had to be talked into that idea.
"Dean really wanted to do the packaging. The idea of touching and manufacturing every piece of the album to the furthest end was an idea that really set his brain on fire, and it kickstarted his imagination about what this album could be, and we worked from there backwards.
"It was a lot of work, but there was something very satisfying about it by the end. Like, 'Wow, we did this.' A lot of art, love, work went into it. There's a sense of pride in ownership."music
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.