Gig review: The Sonics at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

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“If folks think they’re coming to see some old fellas in their 70s prattle and stumble on stage, they know nothing about us”.

The Sonics made it visibly and verbally clear during their gig at The Brudenell Social Club last week that they have no desire to slow down or mellow with age, evincing that they are still very much the frightfully savage, surly garage rock stalwarts of their mid-1960s prime.

The general feel prior to tonight’s show was a culmination of mixed expectations; ones which deviated from what was essentially ageist dubiety – can a group in their 70s really sound as good as they did in their heyday?- and a disbelief that a band of this ilk and eminence would be in the unexceptional surroundings of Hyde Park, Leeds. But that is, arguably, what makes The Brudenell Social Club so celebrated and so special: especially to us locals, it’s not every day that the Sonics play on your doorstep.

The Sonics’ indelible influence is palpable simply just by looking around you: the band’s wide-ranging appeal is evidenced in the diversity of tonight’s crowd; mods alongside rockers, balding record collectors, men and women -both young and old. The pleasing irony here is that this show is, quite rightly, a sell-out - but for the very thing that cost the quintet commercial success in their heyday. There’s a belief that suggests they inadvertently invented punk rock; while there were plenty of bands in mid-1960s America knocking out three-cord songs about girls and cars, the Sonics’ musical ineptitude and obsession with distortion meant that their celebrity remained relatively local.

Were it not for the noise they make, you’d have a hard time equating the sprightly gentlemen on stage with the glowering youths you see on the covers of their old record sleeves. Time has not sanded down their rough edges, and they sound fiercer than you might expect.

The set comprises of a pleasing mixture of all the revered ‘hits’ as well as new material from their upcoming album, and it’s hard to differentiate between them: songs like ‘Number 666’ and ‘Be a Woman’ sound similarly visceral and immediately classic, both of which are met with an appreciative response and approval from the audience.

Larry Parypa’s guitar work sounds particularly menacing on the concluding, bloodcurdling rendition of ‘Psycho’, and lead singer Gerry Roslie’s raw-throated vocals still carry an unmistakable menace vital to the Sonics’ celebrated sound, not more so than on the pounding take of Richard Berry’s ‘Have Love Will Travel’; each scream sounding truly, wonderfully disturbing.

It’s worth noting that this is not the original Sonics line-up: Bob Bennett is replaced by the equally proficient Dusty Watson on drums and original bassist Andy Parypa replaced by Freddie Dennis, both of whom do a credible job at maintaining the Sonics’ quintessential raucous sound.

This is a revitalised version of the Sonics, but watching the band is as disorientating as they probably were in 1965.

They’re back on stage not long after they left it, and resume with ‘Strychnine’ and finish with ‘The Witch’; a spell is cast on everyone watching –while a pool of people surge and clamber behind me – and for those two minutes, they are the nastiest kids in town once more.

Gig date: May 7

Paul Draper. Picture: Tom Sheehan

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