Sonics attack

Martin Longley savours the B’ham debut of The Sonics, 55 years after the US garage punk combo’s formation.

The Sonics
The Institute
July 28th

The Sonics virtually created the garage band sound, back in the mid-1960s, taking the foundations of rhythm’n’blues and forcing a leap towards further extremity, continuing the mission begun by Link Wray, but using warped pop song structures instead of instrumental grinding.

Surely this Tacoma gang’s influence subsequently hung down into the eager mouths of The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, The Modern Lovers, The Cramps, The Fall, The Gun Club and Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion, to name just a few likely (or even confirmed) acolytes. The Sonics were dispersed for decades, but have been strongly re-united since 2007, finally releasing an album of new material in 2015, lovingly mono in nature.

This platter was heavily featured during their set in The Institute’s middle-sized room, The Library, which they managed to fill quite tightly. This was presumably the combo’s first visit to Birmingham in their 55-year existence.

Fortunately, the surviving members make up the personality-loaded front line of keyboards, saxophone and guitar, with most of the lead vocals taken by (plastic) ivory-tinkler Gerry Roslie. Sadly, his organ and piano sounds were often buried in the mix, and the saxophone didn’t fare much better, although the vocals were loud and clear.

No problems with the drums, bass and lead guitar, though. This was effective as a wall-of-sound, but there were times where some highlighted organ-gushing would have upped the general crazed quotient. Tenorman Rob Lind’s harmonica solos on a few of the numbers were adequately boosted, adding a burning extra to the already stoking array of constantly-soloing front-line activity. Bassman Freddie Dennis (a former Kingsman) ably displayed his high-holler vocals on several songs, but Roslie’s voice was also still in shape for similarly extreme screams, always in tune, despite their raucous attack.

The classics ran rampant, with Boss Hoss being a less-acknowledged gem, and Psycho charging forth soon after. Stand-outs from the new album were Be A Woman, Bad Betty and the best of all, I Got Your Number (which happens to be 666!).

Notable covers were Have Love, Will Travel, Louie, Louie and Keep A-Knockin. After nearly an hour, the set finished surprisingly early, but there had to be an encore, so a pair of their crucial numbers could be unchained, to demonstrate what must have been a particularly extreme stance back in 1964 and ’65. Strychnine and The Witch are still amongst the greatest rock’n’roll songs ever written, and The Sonics delivered them with a mean gusto.

This gig didn’t match the excessive wipe-out of their 2007 show at Warsaw in Brooklyn, but the house was still ultra-heated by their devilish commitment to sheer, stompin’ chaos, sculpted with finger-wounding edges.

Pic: (c) Merri L Sutton