The Flamin' Groovies Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto ON, November 18
Published Nov 19, 2015Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the Flamin' Groovies, a milestone that'd be more significant if the band hadn't actually ceased to exist from 1992 to 2013. Three years ago, the core of their seminal '70s lineup — guitarist Cyril Jordan, bassist George Alexander, and singer/guitarist Chris Wilson — reunited, and it was this version (along with drummer Victor Penalosa) that rocked out for a less-than-capacity Horseshoe crowd.
The cult favourite Groovies are one of those bands who influenced many other, more successful groups, and they're now recognized as leading lights in or forerunners of power pop, garage rock, and punk. It was their garage/punk side that ruled the roost here; their few attempts at the Beatles-esque vocal harmonies present on some earlier records were rather lost in the din, as on "Please Please Girl." Wilson's voice is now more of a rather strained shout than a melodic vehicle.
Still, those that came for the signature FG rifferama were not disappointed. Led by Jordan, the guitars built a wall of sound infused with a rock'n'roll spirit that sounds as fresh as ever. The Groovies have always taken from a wide range of material that they then put through their riff-y grinder, and this gig was no exception. They covered songs by Larry Williams, Chuck Berry, W.C. Handy (a near unrecognisable "St. Louis Blues"), Freddie Cannon ("Tallahassee Lassie," a set highlight), Frankie Lee Sims, and NRBQ's "I Want You Bad." Wilson termed the latter "a band we like, and they like us."
The voluble singer is sometimes accused of chatting too much, but he was relatively restrained here (a crack about Ben Carson fell flat). The short-ish set's momentum definitely picked up near the end, boosted by a strong version of FG classic "Slow Death." A slightly ragged take on their anthem signature tune "Shake Some Action" ensured an encore, closed out by the predictable yet smart choice of "Teenage Head," which inspired the name of Hamilton's best punk band. Alexander laughingly previewed the song by noting "we're too old for teenage head now." A band past its prime? Certainly. A band worthy of respect and still capable of delivering an entertaining show? Definitely.