Back to the garage

Little Steven and the Mooney Suzuki
By BRETT MILANO  |  September 12, 2006

060915_mooney_main
TIMELESS: Along with the Fleshtones and the Zombies, the Mooney Suzuki are a perfect fit for Little Steven’s garage.
In a perfect world, it would have been Little Steven Van Zandt’s channel, rather than Howard Stern’s, that prompted hundreds of thousands to sign up for Sirius satellite radio. For one thing, Van Zandt’s Underground Garage is the only satellite channel that plays an ode to my favorite neighborhood hangout: Kenne Highland’s “Not Too Shabby at the Abbey.” Beyond that, the channel has air personalities with real personality, from the boisterous Handsome Dick Manitoba to the impeccably cool Andrew Loog Oldham. And the channel’s definition of “garage” is just loose enough to work: at any given time you can hear James Brown segue into the Buzzcocks into the Lyres. Bucking every commercial radio trend, Van Zandt’s crew don’t isolate by sound or era, and neither do they try to make overplayed records sound fresh by jumbling them into a “Mike” format. Instead they draw an informed distinction between what rocks and what doesn’t. (Van Zandt’s show of the same name can be heard in Boston Sunday nights on WROR FM.)

The same loose æsthetic — a mash-up of musical eras — is at work for Little Steven’s current package tour, which hits Axis Monday: the Mooney Suzuki, the Woggles, the Fleshtones, Boston’s the Charms, and headliners the Zombies. The last-named (with original singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent) are playing Boston for the first time in 40 years. Along with the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and Love’s Forever Changes, their 1968 Odessey & Oracle is one of the Big Three of semi-psychedelic orchestral-pop landmarks.

With their raw ’60s-derived sound, the Mooney Suzuki are one of the first bands you’d expect to get a career boost from Little Steven’s channel, but singer Sammy James says it’s not necessarily so. “The people that want it know where to find it, and they’re very grateful for it, but I’m not sure how many new people it’s converted. More people probably got turned on to quote-unquote garage rock when the Hives were on MTV.” And for all their bluster on stage, James is reluctant to cast his band as standard bearers for real rock and roll. “I don’t know if what we do is the real thing — I may think they’re wrong, but a lot of people think we’re jivy bullshit. There’s a lot of argument to be made that the Ramones and the Heartbreakers were genuine punk rock and that Avril Lavigne isn’t. But I’m sure she’s pretty genuine to a lot of people.”

The Mooney Suzuki moved into Avril’s orbit on their last album and took some flak for it. Alive & Amplified (Red Ink/Columbia, 2004) was produced by the Matrix, the team who helped make Lavigne’s career and almost killed Liz Phair’s. They didn’t do the Mooney Suzuki any favors either, though the album wasn’t quite the fiasco that some reviews claimed. “I love the album for what it was,” James says. “It’s a shame that people were ready to hate it right out of the gate, but that’s one reason we did it — because we knew it would piss people off. But once it came out and they did get pissed off, we started thinking, ‘Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.’ ”

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