The Sonics, Cavestomp! at Warsaw, Brooklyn, November 3, 2007
Of all the rock bands who have ever reunited, the Sonics waited the longest. The original version of the Seattle band broke up 40-odd years ago, after practically inventing garage rock and leaving future generations to cover songs (“The Witch,” “Cinderella,” “Psycho”) that now sound like classics but were only regional hits back then. The members haven’t played much music since, and singer/keyboardist Jerry Roslie was variously rumored to be incapacitated, incomunicado, or dead. So New York’s Cavestomp! scored a minor miracle when it got three original members of the band (the other two are still alive but out of touch) to headline its festival last weekend, on a bill that also included the Strawberry Alarm Clock, New Colony Six, and Boston’s own Lyres. The curiosity factor alone was enough to draw a near-full house to Warsaw, a cavernous Polish-American hall in Brooklyn (think the Middle East with pirogis), and there were more than a few Abbey/Club Bohemia faces.
There was no fanfare for the Sonics’ performance on Sunday, just the familiar, hyper-distorted opening chords of “He’s Waitin’ ” blasting out before the curtain parted. Not only did the Sonics pull it off, they pulled it off so well that their four-decade silence is now that much more of a mystery. True, the youngish rhythm section looked out of place (though the new bassist and drummer played fine), and the set was paced so that Roslie had to unleash his Little Richard wails for only two or three songs at a time. But his voice was intact, and the primitive sound of the records was right there — even in real life, they sound as if the amps were all overloading and there were fuzz on the needle. They reached into their late-’60s blues-rock days for the Yardbirds-ish “You’ve Got Your Head on Backwards” but generally stuck with the three-chord monoliths — right down to the near-violent “Louie Louie” that was the first encore. And after all the build-up, it was a minor shock to see the Sonics revealed as healthy and normal-looking middle-aged guys, though Roslie still has that demented gleam in his eye. Before “Strychnine,” they announced for the record that they don’t actually drink the stuff straight but they do like it in coffee.
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