Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Tranzmitors and the Sonics at the Venue: Live Review

Hard to believe that the last time I saw the Tranzmitors I was writing about them for the Nerve Magazine (remember them?) when they played the birthday celebration for Scratch Records (remember them?). I guess that must have been ten years ago, now, but it seems the more things change, the more the Tranzmitors remain a consistently kickass live act. I even nabbed a bit of video of them playing my favourite Tranzmitors' song, "Look What You're Doing," which is also one of my favourite songs ever that complains about corporate media culture, right up there with X asking in "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts" for the "last American band to be played on the radio" to "please bring the flag." As always, the band was fun, tight, and tuneful. glad to know they're still out there!
It was also a delight to see the Sonics, though it looks like the band had a pretty harrowing, fraught time making it happen for us - not that that detracted from our experience as an audience! Y'see, as embarrassed as bands can get when things go wrong, people have to understand: there's a certain kind of chaos that can only make an audience love and identify with you all the more, that can only make a gig all the more memorable. Perfectly played, perfectly planned, perfectly executed concerts seldom linger long in the mind, in fact. They sort of just turn into "more TV," by virtue of their ease of consumption, leaving only the dimmest impression a few years down the road, whereas gigs where it is unclear if the band is going to actually make it through without some major malfunction have an energy and dynamism to them that is unique and powerful and emotionally engaging, even if they include a few flub-ups.  
Case in point: of all the gigs I attended in the 1980's (not many) and the 1990's (quite a few), the one that stands out the strongest for me was seeing the Volcano Suns, led by Mission of Burma drummer Peter Prescott, at the Cruel Elephant on Granville, when that venue was about a week away from total collapse and condemnation. Warm summer rain was streaming from the ceiling into several industrial-sized white buckets on the stage; big sodden clumps of insulation were flumping down everywhere from above; the overhead lights were all shorted out and dark, while the floor lights were mostly lighting steam as it rose; and the band was playing soaked and shirtless in the midst of it all. No clue how it could be that no one got electrocuted, but the whole ambience - of three guys trying to make a gig work in some of the most harrowing circumstances imaginable, almost like they were playing in a cave during a tropical storm - made it maybe the most exciting rock concert I've been at. It's certainly the one I have the fondest attachment to, that lingers huge while several other shows from that time, like Tad (whom I love), are now completely forgotten.... though as is typical I barely remember what songs the Suns played that night. I think it was on the Bumper Crop or maybe Career in Rock tour, though... 
The Sonics didn't have it half that bad at the Venue, but they had a pretty rough time even getting into Vancouver, as it turns out. Saxophonist Rob Lind, who served as the voice of the band, explained during his first bit of between-song patter that they'd made a five hour drive into an eleven hour one, with a long portion of time stuck behind a fatal traffic accident on the 99 and a few extra hours spent marooned at the customs office, despite their general unthreatening middle aged demeanor. They barely made it into Vancouver in time to get their stuff to the hotel, rushing to get dressed (with a few literal wrinkles in their freshly unpacked clothes) and get to the gig on time, all the while aware of a strict 10:30 cutoff so the place could turn into some sort of hip hop club (the subject of several boos from Sonics fans in the audience, whenever Lind mentioned it). 
The general chaos meant several things: that the Sonics had to make a few adjustments with mikes and cables and such while playing their first couple of songs (!); they also had to substantially abbreviate their setlist, with several songs visible on the page not appearing at all, or popping up in some order other than what was written. A bunch of tunes weren't played - "Bad Betty," "666" (entitled on the album "I Got Your Number"), "Head on Backwards," "Money," and I think "He's Waitin'" - a favourite of mine - didn't make the cut. And here I was, already sad to see that "Save the Planet" wasn't listed!
The impromptu nature of all these changes seemed to leave certain members somewhat flustered. I particularly smiled to see Gerry Roslie, vocalist and keyboardist and author of several Sonics classics, having to turn pages of sheet music while the rest of the band played "Louie Louie," whuch is not generally a sheet-music kind of song. I suspect that he was actually looking more for the lyrics, since it was one he sang. "New guys" Freddie Dennis - who inherited lead vocals on several classic songs like Roslie's "Cinderella," and who appeared to unexpectedly have to take over for Roslie on "The Witch" for reasons unclear to me - and ace drummer Dusty Watson seemed to have the easiest time rallying and keeping things high energy, while Lind's apologetic manner was kind of endearing, and guitarist Larry Parypa just seemed to smile it all off. But the main point is, the band still rocked, overall: the set was actually far more exciting because it felt like the Sonics were negotiating an obstacle course just to survive it. The singalong for "Strychnine" was especially engaging. Alas, my one video, of their cover of the Kinks' "Hard Way," off their (just fantastic) new album, This Is The Sonics, cut off halfway through, because I didn't have enough room left on my phone....
Anyhow, take heart, Sonics: not only were we not disappointed by the fact that things weren't quite to the level of professionalism you obviously expect of yourself - we could see y'all felt bad! - but we probably got more out of the show for it all. Our hearts and good will were with you, and the chaos lent a tension to the night that was exciting to be a part of. It was a highly memorable show, and we're already ready for you to do another one! Come back soon, once these pesky European tour dates are done....
(And thanks a bunch for signing my album!).

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