Alongside The Kingsmen and The Wailers, The Sonics were basically responsible for the howling breach-birth of the monster that is Northwest rock and roll. Barely out of their teens when they began playing together in the early 1960s, the five snappily-dressed young badasses who comprised The Sonics mixed the soot of their industrial Tacoma hometown with the sweaty abandon of old-school rock and blues heroes like Little Richard and Howlin’ Wolf to create an unhinged new animal.
The resulting records were as primal and stripped-down as you could get—compact blasts of battering drums, growling bass, ragged fuzztone guitar, grunting animal saxophone, dirty blues keyboards, and hell-with-the-lid-blown-off singing. It was a sound that did its small but crucial part to liberate American rock and roll from years of neutered teen idols, and it made British contemporaries like the Rolling Stones sound like candy-assed dilettantes.
The Sonics never became mega-stars, but they helped write the textbook on garage rock, and when leather-jacketed wastrels in the mid-1970s got fed up with arena rock’s empty pretense, The Sonics became one of the key nutrients in the soil that spawned the entire first wave of punk. The band’s pulverizing DNA winds through Iggy Pop and The Stooges, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Mudhoney, Nirvana, Jack White, and the Black Keys (to name only a few).
All of the above is a long and windy way of saying that The Sonics, despite their unpretentious demeanor, are pretty much Northwest rock royalty. The simple fact that they’re even playing live at this point is cause for celebration: The fact that their gig last Thursday at The Moore Theatre was one of the best live rock shows I’ve seen in my life is nothing short of inspiring.
Sharply attired in basic black, The Sonics took to the stage just shy of 10:00 p.m., opening up with a concise and ripping version of “Psycho.” From there, the pedal didn’t leave the metal for the next hour and 45 minutes as they tore through old and new cuts alike with the no-bull forcefulness of an outfit one-third their age. Pretty much every track a Sonics fan could’ve hoped for got a workout, from originals like “Shot Down” and “Boss Hoss” to the most menacing cover of “Louie Louie” that you’ll ever hear. Best of all, the band fired through nine cuts from their first all-new full-length in 48 years, This is The Sonics (a record whose flat-out brilliance could merit a couple hundred words on its own).
A lot of the evening’s considerable momentum came courtesy of the band’s founding members. Rob Lind’s saxophone and harp provided as much brute force as the bass and drums, and he served as the band’s informal mouthpiece with aplomb, working the charged-up crowd like the host of an extra-packed house party. Guitarist Larry Parypa’s low-key demeanor stood in sharp contrast to the mutant blues licks and power chords he tossed off with lethal efficacy. And let it be stated for the record that lead singer Jerry Roslie’s aggressive, soulful snarl can still cauterize any and all eardrums within earshot.
Original bassist Andy Parypa and founding drummer Rob Bennett were MIA (both, alas, are unable to travel), but thankfully the two new-ish guys forming The Sonics’ current rhythm section were little short of godsends. Drummer Dusty Watson (who’s logged in time behind the kit with everyone from Lita Ford to The Supersuckers) drove the songs with a potent combination of swing and muscle, and bass player Freddie Dennis proved to be the night’s secret weapon. Almost sweetly unassuming before he began playing, Dennis laid down a near-volcanic bottom end on the four-string, and he let fly on nearly half of the lead vocals with a bobcat wail that matched Roslie’s world-class growl slug for slug.
Ferocious as the band’s attack was, though, The Sonics never lost sight of the fact that they’ve always been (and always will be) a rock and roll party band of epic proportions. Lind led the crowd through plenty of call-and-response shouts, and the house-party atmosphere was reinforced by the numerous guest stars who periodically shared the stage. Presidents of the United States of America frontman Chris Ballew gave a spirited guest vocal on “You’ve Got Your Head on Backwards,” Mudhoney’s Mark Arm joined The Sonics for a roaring take on “Shot Down,” and Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic filled in on bass for a fierce rendition of “Cinderella.” By the time the encores rocketed to a close with a turbo-charged cover of Little Richard’s “Lucille,” even the usually-taciturn Roslie could be seen cracking a smile. True rock and roll badasses, it seems, still know how to have a good time.