Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Things I dig: The Sonics!

Couple days ago I saw legendary garage rock pioneers The Sonics at the Beachland Ballroom here in Clevo.

The Sonics are beloved by music dorks. Everyone from Springsteen to the Ramones to Jack White cites them as a huge influence. But they were largely unknown during their heyday. The were very popular in their native Washington State, and had a few regional hits (back when their were such things) in places like Pittsburgh, but barely made a blip on the national scene. The started as, literally, a garage band, while the guys were still in high school. They played weekend gigs around the Pacific Northwest for a few years while their lineup and sound solidified, then recorded their debut Here Are the Sonics in 1965. The band fell apart between 1966 and 1968, with members leaving to attend university or join other bands. Saxophonist Rob Lind became a fighter pilot in the Vietnam War! Their raw, scorching sound lived on in legend.

The various members all got on with their lives, got married, had kids, and grandkids, had long careers and retired. A few still played occasionally. The original line-up reunited briefly for a gig in 1972, but nothing more came of that.

Then a strange, wondrous thing happened. A few years back when neu-garage bands like the White Stripes and Black Keys became popular, people discovered the Sonics anew. Their discography was re-released. And their blistering cover of Have Love, Will Travel was used in, of all things, car ad in 2007. I remember first seeing that ad on the tube and thinking Holy Crap, is that....? It is!!

Apparently many others reacted the some way, because the call rose for the Sonics to play again. They did just that later that year, at the Cavestomp Garage Rock Festival in Brooklyn, with three of the five original members, now all pushing 70, and replacements on drums and bass. The drummer played with Dick Dale and the Supersuckers. The portly bass player, who also handles some of the vocals to give Gerry Roslie a break during the set, was with the Kingsmen.  They came onto the stage to raucous applause and proceeded the destroy the house. The Sonics had, incredibly, amazingly, lost nothing. All is right with the world, friends.

Now they're touring regularly and playing before packed houses wherever they stop. The Beachland... their first appearance in Cleveland EVER... was sold out, a mixture of aging garage rockers and 20-something hipsters and everything in between. This isn't one of those lame oldies concerts like you always see on PBS pledge week. This is mythic underground band finally enjoying the acclaim they deserve. Their set was all I hoped for. Some of their equipment blew up as they neared the end. It fucking blew up!  And the whole crowd grooved and jumped to an encore of Strychnine, Psycho and The WitchI haven't enjoyed a show this much in some time.

Guess I appreciate the novelty of this more than most, since, I too, am enjoying a late-career renaissance. I really can't think of another band that was away for this long and then came roaring back.