The Sonics Boom Again

The curtain parted to reveal a short, 60-something guy with a comb-over and a neatly trimmed goatee. Next to him stood a gray-haired man with a paunch who slightly resembled Lou Dobbs. At stage right was a fellow with sunken cheeks and hair gone mostly white.

They were the Sonics, possibly the most ferocious band in rock and roll history, and they were back together for the first time in 35 years.

They may not have looked the part. But as Larry Parypa launched into the ear-splitting, distorted guitar chords that kick off "He's Waitin'," and vocalist Gerry Roslie's growls and shrieks filled Brooklyn's Warsaw club, it was obvious that musically, they haven't lost a step.

Even if you were around during their mid-'60s heyday, unless you lived in the Pacific Northwest, you may not have heard of the Sonics. They had a couple of regional hits and recorded three albums for local labels, but they never toured or got significant airplay anywhere else. It wasn't until the garage-rock revival kicked in during the late '70s and '80s that a cult following sprang up around their savage brand of proto-punk, and songs like "The Witch," "Psycho," and "Strychnine" found a whole new audience, most of whom weren't even born when the Sonics split up in 1967.

That audience didn't pay to hear new songs or oddball covers, and the Sonics (three out of the five original members, at least -- the bassist and drummer were ringers) didn't want to do that either. The set list stuck to songs the band undoubtedly played at the dancehalls around their native Tacoma in 1966, evenly split between originals and well-worn covers like "Walkin' The Dog," "Keep A-Knockin'," and of course the garage band anthem "Louie, Louie."

They didn't just play the songs, they pummeled them, with a sledgehammer beat, fuzzed guitar, wailing sax, and pounding keyboards, all of which sounded as muddy and overloaded as their records. Most astonishing was Gerry Roslie's voice, which runs the gamut from a fierce bellow to a shriek that approaches Little Richard at his most demented. Roslie's had a heart transplant and lost parts of both kidneys in recent years, but his vocals have lost none of their power. I can only imagine what he was like onstage back when he had all his organs.

Anyone who goes to see a reunion show by a favorite band expects the worst (a watered down version of the greatness that sold the tickets in the first place) and hopes for the best (not just an approximation of what the band used to be, but a taste of the real thing). The Sonics delivered more than anyone possibly could have expected. The set had its ups and downs, but during the high points they were one of the fiercest bands I've ever seen. It's not every re-hashed group of AARP members that can turn a club full of kids half their age into a frenzied, screaming mob, you know.

Sadly, the Sonics have no more gigs scheduled, but fans who missed the show can bear witness to the miracle that was their reunion with an upcoming live album -- and DVD, in case watching dudes with comb-overs playing punk rock is your thing.