The Sonics, Death Hymn Number 9, The Sloths At The Echoplex, Saturday January 21st 2017
Death Hymn Number 9 was opening the evening at the Echoplex, which was headlined by the mighty Sonics on Saturday night, and if you think it was weird for a young punk band to open for the Pacific Northwest old-school garage rock band, you shouldn’t. First, because the energy unleashed by all the bands which played that night was equally high, then because the Sonics are credited to have inspired legions of punk and hard rock bands, from Nirvana to the Fall.
I have seen Death Hymn Number 9 a couple of times and I am always taken by their bluesy bloody zombie punk rock. They are aggressive and in complete assault mode from start to finish, while the long-hair ball of fire guy who is their frontman, exorcizes the zombie out of the ghost of rock and roll every time he starts dancing and running during one of their crazy numbers. it’s violent and fun, raw and loud, chaotic and unsafe and exactly how it should be… as a matter of fact he repeated a few times ‘Rock and roll is not safe’. But are they playing rock and roll? Oh yeah and much more, they concoct a unique brand of howling trash punk rock, gospel violence, stomping rhythms and the blues is not very far below these crazy deafening guitar riffs.
You know you are always in for a good time when the Sloths are playing, I have seen them many times now, but each show is different and I am not only talking about the music. Frontman Tommy McLoughlin is a frontman with many tricks in his rock and roll bag, and this bag seemed to be really big this time. Of course, all this is very theatrical but the effect is surprising, half magic trick, half movie special effect, it is executed with the swagger of an authentic star, and a different outfit at each song to better mime and live the Sloths’ songs, while the music, a blend of soul, raucous rock, and propulsive rhythm & blues (think Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, and even the Stones) are played with an old school class and plenty of bravado. This time, there was a bag of inflated dolls that he threw over the crowd,… ‘Never Enough Girls’ indeed, there were some pyrotechnics, a fan making confetti mysteriously appear, during their hits ‘One Way Out’, or ‘Makin’ Love’, and a dramatic ending with a movie-trick bloody stabbing. Bleeding for us like martyrs, jumping in the crowd to serenade girls like rock stars, this is part of the Sloths’ game and the game always comes with many surprises…. ‘That was amazing!’ said a young guy standing next to me who was visibly there for the Sonics. They resurrected the Sunset Strip’s good old days and killed it again with that dramatic stabbing during a glorious rendition of ‘Gloria’.
Then it was the turn of the Sonics, who were announced as ‘the number one band in the entire world’! The energy got to the roof at the first song, and if the line up has changed over the year – well, they formed in 1960, meaning 56 years ago – the youthful exuberance was intact and the rawness and explosion of rock and roll that followed was simply astonishing. If they are often cited as ‘the first punk/grunge band’, they sounded totally 50’s rock to me, but they executed a few timeless classics (Eddie Cochran’s ‘C’mon everybody’, Richard Berry’s ‘Louie Louie’, Little Richard’s ‘Lucille’, and even Ray Charles’ ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor) like a punk band, playing loud and fast with an aggressive delivery. And this was the most amazing part, an old-school vibe contrasting with a punk fury and anger, these raucous numbers were accompanied by a saxophone (played by Rob Lind) and some classy keys (played by Jake Cavaliere), while their matching fancy dark suits and white shirts was coming with a large dose of brawling attitude,… should I add that bassist-singer Freddie Dennis’ howls could have competed with AC/DC’s Brian Johnson’s? They actually all sang at some point and kept us very busy for more than hour, barely slowing down between songs, embarking in a long fury of volcanic rock and roll series. I was close to guitarist Evan Foster who demonstrated a formidable energy and was making the most amazing faces and dances. The whole band had visibly as much fun as the public, which was starting to get rowdy: a mosh pit even started during the last songs, which can look a bit comical when you think that all these tunes were recorded in the mid sixties?
Because they put so much passion and energy in their playing, the Sonics can still perform Little Richard’s ‘Lucille’ and make you believe it is the first time you listen to the 1957 hit! All the songs were played with a furious and sweaty energy and something close to a chaotic rock fight, sometimes punctuated by a few ‘Hey Hey Hey’, which led to a cover of the Kinks (‘The Hard Way’), but I have to say that the Sonics have a special relationship with Ray Davis as saxophonist Rob Lind explained, Ray is a fan… First of all, the Sonics erupted from the Pacific Northwest scene the same year than the British invasion and Ray Davis invited them to play at Meltdown when he curated the festival in 2011.
The Sloths have played with the Sonics several times, and this totally makes sense, both bands are garage rock pioneers, both bands recorded an album as recently as 2015, ‘This is the Sonics’ (The Sonics) and ‘Back From The Grave’ (The Sloths) and both albums feel like a resurrection. At 60-70, they still play and scream their rock and roll wild dream as if it was still 1965, and this is an excellent thing that none of them care about what you think.
C’mon everybody (Eddie Cochran)
Have Love, Will travel (Richard Berry)
Be a Woman
Back in the Car
Head on Backwards
Keep a Knockin’
Louie Louie (Richard Berry)
The Hard Way (The Kinks)
Money (That’s What I Want)
Lucille (Little Richard)
I Don’t Need No Doctor (Ray Charles)
More pictures here