Photos by Steffen Jørgensen
I’ll just come straight off the starting line with this: seeing The Sonics at Voxhall was one of the best musical experiences of my life.
Why? Well, I think the word of the evening was “expectations”. You see – expectations can be a bitch of a monkey to carry on your back when dealing with music – it can mar and tarnish every single moment you potentially could have had – but when you leave them at the door – you are totally free to experience things for what they are. What they were here: brilliant.
I took my band mate Daniel in to see The Sonics. We, like nearly everyone else there – had grown up playing the old Sonics records, A band that only existed for a short time 50 years ago – and have a mystical cult following among punks, garage rockers and lovers of raw original first wave artifacts. Seeing the Sonics on a stage in our hometown, and them sounding as raw and vital as they did on the records, and being able to even touch them and dance in front of them was never supposed to happen – well not any more than seeing the Beatles, a skinny Elvis or going on a date with Marilyn Monroe if we’re dreaming. Here we were though – seemingly in a dream.
How else were we supposed to deal with this? Daniel had come back from the remote pacific islands of Vanuatu with a massive bag of Kava – a traditional islander drug used for ‘relaxation’ and ‘relief of anxiety’. The real anxiety however was in the preparation of it, it had to be rendered into mud and blended, then the putrid liquid squeezed out. While his very skeptical flat-mate was in the kitchen preparing her supper – we were throwing around pots and pans, grinding, mixing and stirring like the Swedish Chef while howling along to the Sonics and scoffing down cheap red wine. After an hour or so of this malarkey – we finally had two wooden bowels of what smelled like a wet cardboard box full of possum droppings. We cranked the music up, quaffed it down and our faces went numb. We were ready.
The 20-minute walk from St. Paul’s was used to dispatch of the rest of the wine and come up on the drug mud. It was a light and heady buzz – kind of like amyl nitrates without the feeling that you are going to choke out and die. Nice. We entered the venue and were promptly greeted by the Powersolo boys and significant others. We spoke again about expectations – something like “I’ve missed so many legendary concerts by not going”. That’s right. We’re going.
Cigarettes were inhaled on the balcony – more garage rock band members were loitering and hugging – it was like some sort of rock n roll meet-and-greet. Everyone was in great spirits and just excited to be in the same place as each other – and the monkey on our backs – a Sonics gig. Someone was happy to report though that they had seen them the night before in Copenhagen – and they were awesome – but that monkey is pulling at your ears going “don’t believe them! See for yourself”
I have to give props at this point the The Courettes – a two person half Brazilian/half Danish lil’ garage rock act from here. They hit the stage with the wonderment of wide-eyed Disney children and rocked the place. They brought Kim Kix out on stage for a number and the place was dancing and swaying. It was already a party by the time their brief set was over. We were getting jazzed up – darting around the place, admiring the energy of The Courettes (and her beautiful red guitar). Then expectation monkey got his dagger in my ear.
A band called Childrenn performed next. I didn’t think this was possible – but they managed to take any energy in the place and throw it upstairs to the smoking balcony. I say the balcony – because that’s where everyone headed during their set. Childrenn played what I can only describe as ‘generic indie-rock’. It may have been alright – it was just grossly inappropriate for this night. Their set dragged on and actually made some people angry with how extremely off the mark it was to the kind of music everyone there was into. I didn’t hear one good comment about them. It did make the Courettes look all the better – however it just totally drained me. The kava’s mild buzz was receding and being replaced by a jagged beer energy. I hoped the Sonics would be on soon.
After Childrenn cleared the stage – the scene was set for the Sonics. Set-lists were being taped to the stage, guitars being tuned – this was really going to happen. Daniel and I found a spot in the front row just in front of a saxophone. This would later reveal it’s self to be a great part of the world to exist in. I remember saying to Dan: “I normally take in a few songs way up front, then push back and enjoy it”. The Sonics hit the stage a minute later – I was not leaving for hell or high water for the rest of the evening.
It first started with the guitar player wailing a little from the wings – then the rest of the band walked out. The building erupted into hoots and clapping. The stout bass player to our left was screaming “Cinderella Cinderella” – the band were plowing along – the sound was heavy in a way I’ve never heard before. This was old-school..a sax blasting along to power chords and pounding drums with boogie-woogie bass. This was 1965!
The next song is where it really took off though. The opening guitar lines to “Shot Down” rang out and the place just boiled over. We looked to the right of the stage, and there belting out “I’ve Been Shot Down…” was their original singer and keys player- that was the voice! That was the Sonics. Incredible.
The band was seemingly emceed by the saxophone player – he would say a few words to the crowd – blast away on the sax and then work the crowd like a campaigning politician! So much rock n’ roll energy from his corner – and he kind of looked like my pop-pop – only in a 40s style cowboy shirt and a slightly dirty grin on his face. The hits kept coming – “Have Love Will Travel”, “Boss Hoss”, “Keep a Knockin” – the energy was through the roof. The expectation monkey was dead and being cremated by the fire of the crowd’s boot heels on the concrete floor. This was a show.
They tastefully played a bunch of numbers from their brand-new album – a highlight was the saxophone player’s own song “666” – which got the front row further bubbled up. After the new material – they launched into a set of songs that I don’t think any band working right now could match – “Dirty Robber”, “Money”, “Louie Louie” and “Psycho” – complete with high pitched screams and blistering guitar and sax solos. This is how it’s supposed to be done folks – a wall of sound and energy.
They took a short pause (a tease rather) and then came on for three encore numbers – a new one; “Doctor” and probably their two most identifiable originals – “Strychnine” and “the Witch”. In the opening riff to “Strychnine” – I actually think I saw someone mentally snap. I think he was alright because I saw him attempting to crowd surf a second later – but for that brief moment…I wouldn’t be surprised if a few heads ended up in the neuro-intensive care unit sucking on ice chips.
What some people might want to say at this point is: y’know – for a band whose collective age is well over the three-century mark – these geezers rock. BUT – old, young, new, old – whatever – these guys put on a show that anyone who likes rock n’ roll would die to see. They played it in an old way – a raw way – without trickery or much modern technology. There was just something about these 5 guys together on our stage that made it all come together in a sublime way. The Sonics had a legacy to live up to – and they more than exceeded everyone’s “expectations” I believe. If there was a bad night to be had in Voxhall – it wasn’t anyone I saw. Okay – maybe Childrenn had a bad night – but I blame whoever booked them for that folly.
With the Vanuatu voodoo juice well and truly danced away, Daniel and I hit the town searching to ride that energy further. We drank like Irish teenagers and frequented many warm rooms, but just couldn’t find anything that matched the power of the Sonics gig.
The lesson is: don’t miss stuff like this. You’ll kick yourself and expectations monkey will win. Leave him at home and do what you gotta do to have a good time and not hurt anyone else. I hope the Sonics will be around forever – but for now – they only exist on record and last Friday night at Voxhall.
Also: kava is called “two-day” by the Hawaiians – allegedly because if it’s two day hangover. That’s why you’re reading this today on not “two-day” ago.
Expectations can be a bitch of a monkey to carry on your back when dealing with music – it can mar and tarnish every single moment you potentially could have had – but when you leave them at the door – you are totally free to experience things for what they are. What they were here: brilliant (6/6)