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A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Southbank Centre presents

Ray Davies’ Meltdown


The Sonics







Photo by Joep Bruijnje


Royal Festival Hall



18 June 2011


One bill – two great bands…Headliners, The Sonics, founded in 1962, are one of the most seminal American garage rock bands of all time, explaining the noticeable number of Ramones t-shirts in the house, a ‘70’s and beyond band whose relentlessly ‘faster, louder’ style was obviously influenced by them. English group Wire, who made their debut in the late ‘70’s, are experimental boat pushers who greatly appeal to those loving dissonance and the darker aspects of Post Punk’s musical legacy, proven by the fact that despite a divided house seemingly, boasting more rockabilly/Sonics aficionados, the Wire fans peppering the hall cried out loudly enough at the end of their set to afford them two well deserved encores.

Wire began this programme on a rather oblique note, launching into a tight pulsing drone, the volume of which I could feel in my throat. Though, from the murmuring going on around me, they weren’t everybody’s cup of strychnine. I use that poisonous term in jest, as those boozily lampooning the band were, without doubt, die-hard Sonics fans and for them, never the twain shall meet. Which was definitely their loss, as Wire is a rare example of the type of imaginative, oblique music issuing from the era after Punk when Nihilism edged towards the subterranean and in their case, far beyond, as they’re still going, and going strong!  In that brief space between Punk and New Wave in the late ‘70’s, any band worth seeing had one over-riding thought in the midst of their playing and performances - to be themselves, as in distinctive - unlike anyone else, and Wire has maintained that philosophy, with no bitter end in sight. The moods they create are compellingly shadow-shifting and diverse.  And though their songs may have originally ranged from slightly warped upbeat pop, i.e. XTC, through dark corridors akin to Joy Division, they’ve since moved on from there, still retaining their own distinctive sound right up to the present. Meltdown fans were treated to a veritable banquet of brilliant songs from Wire’s extensive catalog, among them: ‘I Am The Fly’ from Chairs Missing (1978), ‘Ahead, ’from 1987’s The Ideal Copy, ‘Come Back in Two Halves’ from A Bell is a Cup…Until It is Struck (1988), ‘The Art of Stopping’ from 2003’s Send album, and marvelous ‘Clay’ and, ‘Smash’ from their 2011 release (yeah, that’s right, 2011!) Red-Barked Tree…and a rocking album it is, if ever there was one, albeit in its own, off the radar way.

I won’t pretend that I’m an expert on Wire or their repertoire, but seeing them live has made me a fan, which is something Meltdown is good at – introducing audiences to bands they didn’t know they loved!

Cue example number two – The Sonics, a group which leaps out of their ‘Louie Louie’ era trenches so fast, you won’t even realise their assault has begun! For anyone thinking rockers are young guys, guess again. This band rocks so hard you feel yourself being propelled towards the stage in order to dance to whatever they decide to churn out. And churn they did, moving from guitar heavy, Little Richard piano, influenced originals like ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’, ‘Get Yourself a Pair of Cheap Shades’ (from their new EP CD ) and ‘Got Your Head on Backwards Baby’, through rock and roll standards with a raw and ready inflection like ‘You Keep on Knockin’ (But You Can’t Come In), on which, Rob Lind’s fiery sax ups the ante, as did his sax and/or harp and vocals  on many songs. Ditto - drummer Ricky Johnson, whose beats infuse a driving rhythm, along with the inimitable Freddie Dennis on bass. The Sonics have two very good, but very different singers, the aforementioned Freddie whose far reaching, raspy voice was the envy of many a rockabilly lad clamoring to shake his hand at the end of the show, and keyboard player/lead vocalist Jerry Roslie, whose voice is more akin to that of Roy Orbison, though he could hardly be detected amid all the mayhem created by his casual remark: ‘Shame you can’t dance here…but rules..’ At which it seemed, nearly half the house, including yours truly, rushed down the side aisle to the front to join those already collectively letting their hair down before these relentlessly raucous rockers!

Hardly coming up for air between songs, the band’s singer/bassist supreme Freddie, at whose feet we were grooving amid the shifting masses, tossed his grey Beatle-like mop, crashing full on into ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’ (Cause I Know What’s Ailing Me), as an air guitarist at the front of the upper level threw his head back and wildly played along with guitarist/singer Larry Parypa. But by the time Roslie casually quipped, ‘I’m glad you finally got up,’ everybody in the place was boogying from stalls to rafters! The early Sonics classic my favourite Psycho-billy band, The Cramps covered on their 1980 debut album Songs the Lord Taught Us - ‘Strychnine’ drove the already going mad into overdrive and unwitting head bobbers into second gear. No wonder bands galore, among them The White Stripes, The Hives and The Flaming Lips have cited The Sonics as major influences, as had bygone rockers The Fall and Nirvana.

The Sonics are far from being history, despite any regroupings circa 60’s till now, a fact reconfirmed by the riotous response to their joyously infectious, no holds barred performance here. Which, also reiterated that they’re still furthering the history of rock, spurning endless off-shoots, up to this very moment, as wannabe rockers round the world trade ‘garages’ for stages. Keep on truckin’ guys, your kick-starts were and are not only welcome, but needed. By all means, please rock till you (or we) drop!

It helps to be a friend of Ray’s from the ‘60’s, Ray Davies, that is.  Though garage bands as rocking as The Sonics don’t come along every decade, as Davies himself implied when he stepped out, amid cheers, to introduce them, noting, ‘The Kinks toured with these guys in 1964, before we even had a car…’

Viva The Sonics! Viva Meltdown! Long live rock n’ roll!


'60's Sonics
Wire in the late '70's



Southbank Centre
Belvedere Road
London SE1 8XX
Ticket Office: +44 (0)844 875 0073
The Sonics Official website http://www.thesonicsboom.com/ 
Official webite of Wire http://www.pinkflag.com/



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