Words by Ed King / Pics by Ella Carman
There are certain moments, seminal plot points in time, which we miss; important and red letter dates that slip down the rabbit hole. Then there are moments that happen without us, but which decorate our lives and rhetoric for decades to come.
I grew up on Nirvana and Soundgarden, but I never lived in the state of Washington or the city of Seattle; tonight I’m watching the Sonics perform their first new (or at least, recorded/released) material in 49 years, on stage at the Institute in Birmingham. Someday, somebody in this room will be saying something to some relative about this.
Already playing as I walk into the back of the crowded Library, sliding through a healthy Tuesday night crowd for the forefather’s of Garage Rock (and arguably elements of Punk), the Sonics are record tight from the off – bashing out their 2-3minute cheeky rampages as if we were all thirty years younger. Rob Lind introduces the band, the songs, their new album and “Vince, who is at the back somewhere selling stuff,” whilst the rest of the vocals are shared between Freddie Dennis (as in ‘& the Screamers’) and Gerry Roslie.
‘Shot Down’ comes rolling effortlessly off stage, before ‘Sugaree’ – a track from the Sonics’ recently self released new LP – This is the Sonics, makes you question which decade we’re still living in. The Sonics, it seems, are still very much the Sonics.
The set jumps from old to new, with the Sonics’ familiar mélange of original tracks and back handed compliments – Ray Davies being the latest to get happy slapped with a cover of ‘The Hard Way’, as featured on the Sonics’ new album.
‘Have Love Will Travel’ propels the initially reticent crowd, a sadly Birmingham hallmark, into a more appropriate audience for Garage Rock. And by the time ‘Boss Hoss’ strikes up a fervent chord or two, super fan No1 (gawd bless you sir) is happily punching fists into the air just behind the front row.
‘Keep A Knockin’ take us back to the start whilst more new tracks, such as ‘I Got Your Number’, continue to rubber stamp the Sonics’ pace that has always defined them. It’s quite eerie how this group of stalwart rockers can still hit as hard as they did nearly half a century ago; I suspect there may be a fading picture of them, on stage at The Spanish Castle, hidden somewhere on the Sonics‘ tour bus.
The set is fast, fun and absurdly tight; there are no cracks in this wall as we casually smash our way through it. Excellent stuff. My only gripe would be the percussion, with Dusty Watson a couple steps behind the boisterous thunderclap that is Bob Bennett – but being human has its limitations and I was looking for a counterpoint.
Closing out the main set with ‘Psycho’, there’s really only one track left to play, and after a tantalisingly long encore demand the Sonics slide casually back on stage. I’m making vocal bets on what the encore will hold, but first up its another cover and the opening track from their new album – Ray Charles’ ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’.
Then it comes, my selfish request and rabbit’s foot moment of the night, as Gerry Roslie steps his fingers slowly along the keys…
I leave the Institute listening to The Hungry Ghosts on my iPod. I am contemporary again; I am replete. I may never have seen Tacoma in the late 1960’s, or travelled the Northwest drinking whiskey and scaring radio stations, but tonight is a genuine and inspiring addition to my hall of personal memories.
How definitive the Sonics’ were is a story in itself, and how fearsome they still are is a testament to something (possibly exercise and meditation, possibly a Faustian pact) but as I swagger home I don’t really care. I still have time to be on the edge somewhere.
And now, at the very least, I can shuffle off that bit more rounded and happier – having witnessed first hand how “some folks like water, some folks like wine…”
For more on the Sonics, visit http://thesonicsboom.com/
For further listing from the Institute, visit http://theinstitutebirmingham.com/listings/