About a week ago I got to do something I have been wanting to do for my entire adult life. I spent a night about six-feet away from some of my heroes, The Sonics.
When I say “Sonics” don’t think of the hapless pro-basketball team that abandoned Seattle to move to Oklahoma City, change their name to the Thunder, and almost instantly appear in the NBA Finals.
No, for these “Sonics” go south a few miles to Tacoma, Washington and meet one of the greatest and most underappreciated rock bands of all time. Crawling out of the garage in 1964 they created a sound that still reverberates today. Many call them the first punk band. They were raw. Loud. Wild. With a live show that created a frenzy among the first generation of rock-and-roll fans.
After three albums in three years they did the unthinkable. They walked away. Took day jobs. Gave up the music business. And stayed out of the spotlight for forty years while a funny thing was happening. They were getting more and more popular every year. Kurt Cobain raved about their sound. Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam gave them shout-outs. Jack White called them of the most influential bands on the White Stripes.
In Europe, where their records never stopped selling, a young Swedish fan named Pete Almqvist told Seattle Weekly, “It sounded like the perfect music to me, like I’d found home. I was into ’50s rock ‘n’ roll and ’70s punk. This seemed to bridge the gap.” Pete went on to form The Hives and follow in the loud high-energy power-pop sound of the Sonics.
Hear the song that started it all for the Sonics, “The Witch” here. It’s a whole lotta swagger, screaming and intentional guitar distortion for 1964, no?
In 2007, the requests to see the band reform got too loud to be ignored. Two sold out shows in New York in November that year only stoked the fire for a worldwide tour and the boys sold out London in March 2008. Since then they’ve performed their still- scorching classic songs, like “Strychnine,” “Psycho,” “Cinderella” all over Europe and North America.
On July 27th, after years of listening to the band, played LOUD, on vinyl, cassette, CD and now mp3, I finally got to see them live at their homecoming show in the Pantages Theater in Tacoma.
The show was as tight and as high-energy as almost any band I’ve ever seen. I was exhausted by the end of it and humbled when realizing I was watching guys so much older than I am playing loud and fast and together like a band at its peak.
The crowd was split between original Sonics fans who saw them back in the day playing teen dances at local venues like The Red Carpet and young fans who were born two or three decades into the bands’ hiatus but still found them through cool friends, cool radio shows or from covers by bands like The Black Keys.
Speaking of The Black Keys, here they are covering the Sonics’ version of the Richard Berry (of “Louie Louie” fame) song, “Have Love, Will Travel”:
Video courtesy Scott Bauer
The Sonics released an EP last year, available here, and are currently working on a new full-length album too. Go see them when they come to a room near you. And by all means, buy these absolutely essential Sonics recordings here on Amazon.com.
— Bean, The Kevin & Bean Show