BY ED KING ROCK EXPERT As a buzz went through social media and the Philadelphia rock scene in the days leading up to The Sonics’ Sunday night appearance at the TLA, I found myself feeling shamefully out of step. It seemed all of my friends would be there, all of my friends, that is, beside my quartet of fellow rock ‘n roll curmudgeons. I wanted to post some holier-than-thou thought on the matter, but that wouldn’t have been cool, not even by my standards. I wanted to pick up the phone and bitch to my friend Anthony, but he was out of town on business. Bitching to Larry wouldn’t have gone any further than, “Most of that Nuggets shit sucks.” Mark wouldn’t have cared quite enough for a satisfying bitch session, and beside, I had another cruel rock observation cued up to share with him. Sam was probably half interested in the show, having played in bands that cut their teeth on that Nuggets shit.
I dig that Nuggets shit, but for all their bit-chomping energy, The Sonics’ comic-book kee-ray-zee lyrics were always a distraction. Rock’s long tradition of Creature Double Feature insanity has never appealed to me. I’m more interested in rock’s true loons, the ones who shine a light on the human condition. Even “Strychnine,” the one song by The Sonics that can make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up rings a bit hollow if I stop to consider the lyrics. You can see why there are only 4 guys on earth I can trust with these feelings.
A couple of nights before the big show I had no intention of checking out I received a text from our thoughtful editor. He set me up with a “plus 1” on the TLA’s guest list. “How cool is that!” I said to my wife, as I prepared her for yet another night as a rock ‘n roll widow. The next day I called Mark to see if he had interest in joining me. I figured he’d accompany me with a similar level of skepticism and cynicism. “At the very least,” I said, “we’ll get a peek into all we’ve got left to aspire to.”
We scanned the gathering crowd, playing Rock Scene Bingo as graying, balding musicians from our frat-rock youth came through the doors. Barrett Whitfield & The Savages took the stage and kicked off a wholly competent, toe-tapping, yet tame set of frat rock. They were a well-oiled machine led by a spirited frontman, but I couldn’t help but think how much more I would have enjoyed them if I’d been well oiled with them blasting through a crappy PA in a sweaty, smoky frat basement, like the time I first saw The Fleshtones.
Between sets a DJ played garage-rock classics, starting with the Easybeats’ bottle rocket “Good Times” into The Human Beinz’s “Nobody But Me.” This is the kind of Nuggets shit I love most, I thought to myself, the stuff with the groovy backbeat. I got a little anxious at the thought of being the only person in the crowd with a bad attitude while a group of 70-year-old guys are onstage living out possibly my last-remaining rock ‘n roll fantasy.
As it turned out, the trio of old guys with a middle-age rhythm section and 1 interesting original song delivered basement-worthy frat rock on the big stage. They dug in on their riffs. They were having a blast. They were gracious. They chomped at the bit as they pushed “Strychnine” into a proto-Roxy Music state of ironic madness and the last half dozen slam-dancing numbskulls on Earth caused a ruckus during the encore. It’s 2015, kids. There should be a zoning ordinance for that behavior. OK, so I’ve officially become ‘Hey You Kids, Get Off My Lawn’ Guy. So be it. It was inevitable. My generation recently crossed the threshold of irrelevance, and rock n’ roll is no country for old men. The generation behind us is already eating our lunch. But maybe one day they will appreciate, and perhaps even celebrate, the things of lasting value that we created, the same way my generation was at the TLA celebrating the works of lasting goodness of the generation prior. Nothing makes you feel forever young like the approval of the new kids on the block. Every time the crowd whooped and cheered after each song, I swear The Sonics got younger before our eyes.
My Sonics skeptic friend Mark agreed that the show was better than he’d expected. Our buddy Sam was at the show with his teenage daughter. She was glowing, both excited by the music she’d heard as well as the near fight she saw breakout as the slam dancers sent beers flying. Sometimes rock ‘n roll is more than all the baggage we bring to it, more than all the deep meaning, man, we seek. A steady assault of fuzz riffs and sax honks, a sneering singer on organ, a Little Richard-schooled shouter on bass, and a stylish pounder on drums is enough to get you through the night. We three middle-aged rock curmudgeons and the starry-eyed kid walked out into the warm April night feeling all right about the future of rock ‘n roll.
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