A review of the Sonics reunion in N.Y. !!

My friend Alex of Mall Security was one of the lucky ones that got a chance to witness the big Sonics reunion at the Cavestomp in New York City. I asked him if he wanted to do a review of the show, and he jumped at the chance. Without any more hesitation, here’s a guest blogging by my friend Alex Scordelis…..

Here are…THE SONICS!!!

It has taken me one week to fully recover from seeing rock ‘n’ roll legends The Sonics reunited at Warsaw in Brooklyn last Sunday. Why such a long recovery period? Let’s just say that the reunited-Sonics that showed up at Cavestomp! turned out to be just as earth-shakin’, bone-rattlin’, and eardrum-splittin’ as they were back when they were laying waste to dance halls across the Pacific Northwest in the 1960’s. Oh, and just as I had always imagined, they were [email protected]#&ing LOUD as sh*&!!!

The historic gig went down at Warsaw at Polish National Home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It’s a fantastic venue that doubles as a Polish community center (they serve a mean pierogi, and Zywiec, a Polish beer, is the drink of choice). Before The Sonics took the stage, they were ably supported by The Wildebeests (from Scotland), The Lyres , and The Fleshtones. All the opening bands effectively pumped up the capacity crowd for the main event, especially The Fleshtones who were rocking out in their own backyard (they hail from Greenpoint, and played their paean to the neighborhood, “Destination: Greenpoint USA” to wild cheers); but listening to these openers was like nibbling on an appetizer while waiting for your New York strip steak to arrive — a steak that has been slow-cooking for 35 years!

After The Fleshtones finished their set, the curtains were drawn shut on the stage. The audience waited with bated breath for nearly an hour — well past midnight — for the curtains to be flung open and the reunited heroes to be revealed. The delay was so long that I feared they might not play — after all, Jerry Roslie has a notorious case of stage fright. But at about 12:30 AM, with the audience stamping their feet and chanting for The Sonics to take the stage, the famously savage three chord riff from “He’s Waitin'” (Bb-F-G) was played, and the curtains were drawn open. Ladies and gentlemen, here are…THE SONICS!!!

Seeing The Sonics open with “He’s Waitin'” ranks with my all-time favorite concert moments. It was a moment I had dreamed about for so long, that finally witnessing it gave me some wicked chills. Not only was it thrilling to finally see one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest bands, but I was relieved and excited by the fact that Jerry Roslie’s voice still sounds as sinister as ever. Even in old age (he had a recent heart transplant, to boot!) that dude can still let out a blood-curdling scream that sounds like Little Richard getting his teeth pulled. It was fantastic. He makes modern day screamers like Frank Black and the late Kurt Cobain sound like amateurs.

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As I mentioned before, one of the best parts of the show was that the band was absolutely deafening. Larry Parypa shredded on The Sonics’ classic primative riffs, and it was noted that the Epiphone guitar he was playing was the same guitar used on all of The Sonics’ albums. Ricky Lynn Johnshon of The Wailers did a stellar job of pounding out The Sonics’ caveman beats on the drums. Don Wilhem (of The Daily Flash) handled bass duties and sang a couple of the cover songs (can’t remember which ones — that’s what happens when you wait a week to write up a review).

The two most entertaining members of the band turned out to be sax blaster Rob Lind, and of course, Jerry Roslie. Even though Roslie is the singer/songwriter of the group, Lind acted as frontman for the band in between songs. He was affable and introduced every number, occasionally with a joke. Before “Have Love Will Travel” he said, “This is for everyone out there that bought a Land Rover!” (The Sonics’ cover of the Richard Berry classic infamously appeared in a 2005 commericial for the SUV) And if I remember correctly, Lind even sang “Walking the Dog.”

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In between songs, Roslie was silent and hid behind the giant Hammond organ he was playing. But as soon as a song started up, Roslie came to life. He made evil looking faces by arching his eyebrows, and hoisted his beer bottle during “Strychnine,” implying that he was gulping down poison. The audience was delighted by his animated and inspired performance. Interestingly, there was palpable tension onstage between Parypa and Roslie. During a few songs, Roslie forgot when to come in with vocals after a chorus (I remember this happening during “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” specifically), and Parypa would get visibly frustrated. On the other hand, Parypa often stretched his guitar solos out a little bit too long on a few songs (I clearly remember this happening during “Have Love Will Travel”), and Roslie would glance at his guitar player with distain. During tense moments like these, it started to make sense why The Sonics haven’t graced a stage in more than three decades.

But most of these minor tiffs went unnoticed by the sold-out audience at the show. Throughout the set, Warsaw’s dance floor bounced up and down like a trampoline as more than 1,000 Sonics fans danced and pogoed to classics like “The Hustler,” “Boss Hoss,” and “Shot Down.” Despite the fact the show went well past 2 AM on a Sunday, the crowd acted more and more frenzied as The Sonics played on late into the night. The Tacoma quintet closed out their set with a blistering version of “Psycho,” and their fans went absolutely bonkers. Take a look…

After The Sonics wailed on “Psycho,” Cavestomp! emcee and Nuggets curator Lenny Kaye (who said “It’s a Nugget if you dug it” about 15 times over the course of the evening) brought the band back out for a well-deserved encore. The Sonics immediately launched into, what else? “LOUIE LOUIE!” I’ve always thought that their cover of Louie was one of the most sinister versions out there, and it certainly sounded wicked that night. Something about the way Parypa bangs out that Bb chord (which is VERY uncoventional for a Louie arrangement) just sounds evil to me. Hearing them play it live sounded like a supersonic jet flying directly overhead.

To end the show, The Sonics played their first hit single, “The Witch.” Before playing the song, Lind asked the audience the sing out the line “‘Cause she’s the witch!” because the whole show was being recorded for a live album and they wanted as much audience participation as possible on the song. The throng of fans obliged and the closing number turned into a raucous sing-a-long. So not only will there be a live album to document the show, but I am guessing there will be a DVD, too — there were video cameras taping the performance from all angles.

I was feeling euphoric after witnessing The Sonics’ historic reunion, and while lingering outside the club after the show, I noticed a familiar face in the crowd. That familiar face belonged to a man named Rosie who I met at this year’s LouieFest in Spanaway, Washington. I went up and introduced myself to Rosie, who traveled from San Diego to see the gig. (turns out that Jerry Roslie is his second cousin!) After informing him that I had played at LouieFest, Rosie said, “Well, you know Buck and some of the Wailers are hanging out backstage — you should go and say hello.” Sounded like a plan to me!

Rosie led me back inside, and I got to say hello and chat with Buck Ormsby of The Wailers. We talked about LouieFest, Woodstick, and the album that The Wailers are currently working on. While talking to Buck, I noticed that The Sonics had emerged from backstage, and were now signing autographs and chatting with fans. Among the fans elbowing their way to get close to The Sonics were current chart-topping Swedish garage rockers, The Hives. I snapped this lousy picture while three members of The Hives chatted with their forebears, The Sonics:

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All five of The Sonics mingled with their fans, taking pictures and autographing LPs and posters. They seemed genuinely grateful for the gratitude their fans were showering upon them. I even got them to John Hancock a couple of “Louie Louie” 7-inches!

autographed SONICS 45 single - pretty cool, eh?

Although their two Cavestomp! performances were advertised as a one-time only event, I can’t imagine that they aren’t going to play more shows. For one, the demand is so high for The Sonics right now (I highly doubt they could have sold out an NYC venue back in their hey day), and they would be silly to turn down the money. But more importantly, they proved that they haven’t lost a step and and still out-rock bands half their age.

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… wait…. there’s more….

Thanks to my friend John Oliver, who was also there, I found out that his friend Kitty Kowalski also shot some wonderful photos of The Sonics. Check out her photos at
http://www.flickr.com/photos/kittykowalski/tags/sonics

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