Published Apr 27, 2015On the strength of menacing early singles such as "The Witch" (banned at the time from radio airplay in some markets), "Psycho" and "Strychnine," as well as two essential LPs (1965's Here Are the Sonics!!! and 1966's Boom), the Sonics can justifiably stake a claim as the originators of the classic garage rock sound, but also a key influence on both punk and hard rock, with followers ranging from the Cramps to Nirvana to Japandroids. Armed with a superb new album — the Jim Diamond-produced This Is the Sonics — the Tacoma, WA quintet made their long-awaited return to Canada nearly six years after a well-received NXNE set at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto.
Powered by Sarah Kirkpatrick's cavernous, primal drumming and Jamie Fleming's deceptively intricate guitar picking and demented, testifyin' growl, Toronto's catl. — joined by the Speaking Tongues' Pete Ross on harmonica — opened the night with an 11-song set split between scuzzy two-chord rave-ups ("Gateway Blues"), bluesy punk ("FU Blues," dedicated to catcalling douchebags) and Stones-y country-rock ("Resistance Place," which showcased Kirkpatrick's powerful pipes). Although the duo's sound owes more to Jon Spencer's or Hazil Adkins's manic rock'n'roll, they were a excellent choice to set the table for the Sonics' garage-rock master class.
The quintet stepped onto Lee's Palace's stage clad all in black, their 2015 incarnation looking less like a gang of dangerous, take-no-prisoners proto-punks and more like a polite group of musical weekenders. However, that impression quickly dissipated with the opening one-two punch "Cinderella" and "Shot Down" (both from Boom), the latter featuring machine-gun drum fills from recent recruit Dusty Watson (Del-Tones, Queers, Supersuckers), a searing solo by original member Larry Paryba on guitar, and loud howls from keyboardist Gerry Roslie, still a powerful screamer in his 70s.
Seamlessly mixing definitive piano-and-sax-driven covers of seminal 1950s and '60s hits by Little Richard ("Keep A-Knockin'"), Eddie Holland ("Leaving Here") or fellow frat-party favourites the Kingsmen ("Louie, Louie") and the Wailers ("Dirty Robber") with new stompers ("Bad Betty," "Sugaree," the tongue-in-cheek "I Got Your Number"), the Sonics' set showcased the group's undiminished power and timeless teenage themes of cars, lust and not-entirely-licit substances. Primed by an hour of raw, raging rockers, the Toronto audience finally let loose, filling Lee's Palace's dance floor for "Psycho" and loudly joining in on the choruses of "Strychnine" and closer "The Witch."
While avowed fans like the White Stripes, the Hives and a host of lesser revivalists may have capitalized at the turn of the millennium on the sound of Here Are the Sonics!!! and Boom, the Sonics — a little older and barely less savage — showed on this night that not only are they at the top of their game more than 50 years into their career, they still rock hard enough to put to shame most bands one-third their age.