When I heard that The Sonics, already in the New York City area this weekend to play Norton Records’ 25th anniversary festival at Bell House, added an afternoon show at Maxwell’s, I decided to buy a ticket. After all, I’d missed their previous East Coast appearance at the Cavestomp festival in Brooklyn several years earlier and since they’re not playing here in Philadelphia, this seemed like a no-brainer.
Thankfully, this performance more than justified the $30 ticket price. The Sonics were in excellent form with keyboardist/lead vocalist Gerry Roslie (unfortunately obscured by the monitor on the right-hand side of the stage, so it was difficult to see him from where I was standing) trading off vocals with bassist Freddie Dennis (who sounded like a rawer John Fogerty!) and guitarist Larry Papyra firing off riffs with saxophonist Rob Lind in fine form as well. Roslie, in particular, was a revelation, since at almost 70 he still has the golden throat, a white, suburban Little Richard-like howl!
As for the setlist, the hour-long show featured basically all the classics from their ’60s albums Here are the Sonics (the crown jewel in their catalog and one of the best ’60s garage-rock albums ever), the terrific follow-up Boom and even a few from the much-maligned but still pretty good_Introducing the Sonics_. In other words, we got “Dirty Robber,” “Boss Hoss,” “Have Love Will Travel,” “Cinderella,” “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” “Louie Louie,” “Keep A-Knockin’” and of course their best-known songs “Psycho,” “Strychnine” and penultimate, pre-“encore” (the band never left the stage) classic “The Witch”, their still-incredible first single from 1965. The only one that I wish they would’ve played would be their incredible version of The Contours‘ “Do You Love Me”, but this is a minor complaint. In addition these ’60s gems, the band surprisingly played several new songs (all on their new EP 8). These included “Cheap Shades,” “Bad Attitude,” “Don’t Back Down” and the Halloween-themed “Vampire Kiss”. Of these, the one that stood out for me the most was “Don’t Back Down” was it was interesting to hear them singing about something other than cars, girls and other teenage kicks. In this case, “Don’t Back Down” is a song that touches upon veterans’ issues, the foreclosure crisis and the bailouts of “too big to fail” banks after the economic downturn of 2008. The new songs sounded decidedly a bit more ’70s hard rock ala AC/DC, but one could clearly tell that this was still The Sonics.
Openers The Young warmed things up nicely, even if none of their individual songs stood out, with a set of Pixies-influenced indie-rock.