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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

From the Archives: Los Angeles Neon Is Being Preserved, Revived

Los Angeles Neon

By Steven Rosen

(From Modernism Magazine, 2006)

It was a warm, lovely October evening in Hollywood. Every quirky, eccentric and beloved 20th Century architectural landmark in the colorful Los Angeles district, from the stack-of-platters-shaped Capitol Records building to the Cinerama Dome movie theater to the hillside Hollywood sign, looked its gleaming best in the clear, fresh air.

As the sky grew darker, people arrived for a cocktail party on the deck of an office building. They were coming to witness the return of a long missing-in-action Hollywood attraction, the Art Deco-designed The Broadway Hollywood neon rooftop sign. It’d been at least 35 years since it last was on – nobody knew for sure when it was permanently shut off.

First lit in 1931, it had heralded a now-closed department store inside the building below it at the famous corner of Hollywood and Vine. The sign had first been turned off during World War II, when Los Angeles feared Japanese air raids, and had only been on intermittently in the 1950s and 1960s. Some at the party recalled how it shone through a hotel window during an old “I Love Lucy” episode.

They ate filet-mignon kabobs and pear-and-gorgonzola-filled philo-dough appetizers, ordered drinks and chatted while a polite pop singer serenaded with gentle romantic ballads. Finally, when night had truly arrived, speakers took the stage and called attention to that still-darkened, monumental neon sign hovering above them on scaffolding to the north. It was time to turn it back on – after all these years.

As part of a remarkable ongoing project in Los Angeles called LUMENS, part-historic preservation and part-public art and inspired by Raymond Chandler’s detective-noir writings about the city, The Broadway Hollywood was getting a facelift and making a comeback.

It was to become the 127th neon (or, in a few cases, incandescent) outdoor sign revived by the program, almost all of them from the heyday of LA neon between the 1920s into the early 1940s. (LUMENS stands for Living Urban Museum of Electric and Neon Signs.)

“I’ve driven by the sign for over 30 years dreaming of the day it would glow again,” said David Bohnett, the GeoCities founder whose foundation provided $44,425 of the money toward the $56,925 cost of the renovation. Community Redevelopment Agency/Los Angeles contributed the rest. “This magnificent light is more than a sign, it’s a symbol. It heralds the renewal of a Hollywood we have all been awaiting.”

Once it dramatically flashed on, the decades of neglect instantly evaporated. It was as elegant and retro-chic as a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical, its bright uncluttered lettering almost floating in the nighttime horizon. The word “The” softly glowed in white – its slanted, script-like font featuring a dramatically plunging, 22-foot-high T. “Broadway,” also white and in 10-foot-high lettering, had a bold-faced, double-neon outline that made it as commandingly reassuring as The New York Times masthead. By contrast, “Hollywood,” in streamlined seven-foot-high powder-blue lettering, was as trim and glamorous as a starlet’s waistline.

People gaped, smiled and applauded. “I don’t know about you, but I have goose bumps,” said Kate Bartolo, senior vice president for development of the Kor Group. It owns the sign as well as the now-vacant, 1927 Renaissance-Revival building that it is atop. Kor Group bought it to convert into condominiums; renovation is underway. The project will be called Broadway Hollywood and Kor will keep the sign lit at night at an estimated energy cost of 55 cents per hour.

“Personally, I think LUMENS is the coolest thing the city of Los Angeles has ever done – maybe the coolest thing any city has done,” said Jake Platt, of the non-profit Los Angeles Conservancy preservation organization, to the crowd. Everyone agreed.

Several weeks later, Adolfo Nodal – the father of LUMENS – was sitting on a patio overlooking a 32-acre cornfield, of all things, in a heavily industrial downtown area. Actually, it’s called Not a Cornfield – it’s a temporary living sculpture funded by the Annenberg Foundation to reclaim neglected urban land – and he’s its general manager. He left the city’s Cultural Affairs Department, from where he shepherded neon restoration, in 2000. But he has remained an advocate.

While it’s as removed as possible from the neon commercial signs he has long worked to preserve, Not a Cornfield is typical of Nodal’s interest in championing the artfulness of everyday objects in the urban landscape. “He’s a visionary kind of guy,” said Kim Koga, director of Los Angeles’ Museum of Neon Art, which now administers the LUMENS program. “LUMENS mainly is Al Nodal – it’s been his passion,” added Jerry Miers, a foreman for Standard Electrical Services, which has done the actual work of restoring the city’s inactive and decrepit neon signs.

To Nodal, the lure of neon is history – the history of 20th Century urbanism in Los Angeles. “The signs became a symbol of modernism when they first came in the 1920s,” he said. “It was such a hip thing and everybody wanted to get on the bandwagon and have a modern-looking sign on their buildings.”

Nodal had moved to Los Angeles from Washington in the 1980s to be director of exhibitions for Otis Art Institute, in the shopworn MacArthur Park area of the city just west of downtown along the city’s main east-west highway, Wilshire Boulevard. He also at first lived nearby. “I started reading Raymond Chandler – it gave me a wonderful appreciation for old buildings in Los Angeles,” he recalled. “I started to see them in a different way. There was a passage in ‘Little Sister’ about neon and I started looking up and right at my building, the Ansonia, I saw a sign.” It wasn’t turned on at night, however – most had been off since World War II.

That passage from the 1949 novel read: “I smelled Los Angeles before I got to it. It smelled stale and old like a living room that had been closed too long. But the colored lights fooled you. The lights were wonderful. There ought to be a monument to the man who invented neon lights.”

Working with artist Alexis Smith, Nodal developed a 1987 test project in which six area signs were turned on. In 1988, Nodal became general manager of the city’s Cultural Affairs Department and started working on a plan to relight 50 rooftop signs along Wilshire – mostly once-stately apartment buildings that had once proudly, enticingly asserted their names in neon.  “The words they used on their buildings are incredibly beautiful, themselves – the Ansonia, the Asbury, the Du Barry.”

To get building owners to agree, Nodal’s agency offered to pay not only the renovation expenses, but the upkeep and electricity costs for five years.  It took several years and about $350,000, but in 1993 some 50 rooftop signs along Wilshire were brought back to life. And the city began to notice the revival of a forgotten era of civic optimism, as well as the graceful, stylized beauty of the lettering of these signs.

According to the International Association of Electrical Inspectors, neon light first was produced in France in 1910, when physicist George Claude applied electricity to a tube containing argon and neon gases and the result was intense red and blue lights. (Other colors are derived from the tint of the glass tubes, which are handmade and bent to shape.)

In 1923, a Los Angeles car dealer purchased and installed the first neon sign in the United States for his Packard dealership on Wilshire. The precise, controlled nature of the illumination seemed more like an artist’s painting than other, messier light sources of the time. It had a galvanizing effect on a city discovering itself. The population was exploding from 100,000 in 1900 to 1.2 million by 1930.

And these boom years corresponded with the Jazz Age, with its taste for decorous glitter and razzmatazz. Los Angeles was at the center of it. “Neon came to Los Angeles in the Jazz Age and it made a statement, along with all the klieg lights that swept Hollywood, the Art Deco buildings, and the car culture, that everything seemed so hopeful,” said Eric Lynxwiler, a Los Angeles urban anthropologist, neon aficionado and co-author of the new book “Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles.”  “I find a hopefulness and promise in those neon signs we probably haven’t seen since the 1950s.”

Neon sprouted everywhere on buildings, especially on the marquees of the Hollywood and new downtown movie palaces of the 1920s and 1920s. But rooftop signs became especially popular because the city at the time had a 150-foot height limit on buildings, which meant they could make a huge visual impact on motorists at night. 

And not just motorists, but also pilots. One of the most important LUMENS restorations was of the 1930 three-sided Bendix sign on downtown’s fringes. It’s a 150-foot tower built atop the old Bendix Aviation Corp. building, with the company’s name spelled out vertically in bright-red letters. The top “B’’ is 25 feet tall and double-outlined, while the others are a still-impressive 10 feet tall. 

According to a 1930 article in Signs of the Times trade journal, it originally had a flashing beacon and a neon arrow and marker on the building’s roof to guide pilots to the nearby airport.  “It actually had a function – pilots used to line up by it,” said Miers, of Standard Electrical Services.

Turned back on in 2003, for a total cost of $46,200, the sign is now visible for miles. However, Museum of Neon Art’s Koga said no physical evidence of the rooftop’s neon arrow and market was found.

In the post-war era, with L.A.’s large rooftop neon turned off, neon lost its luster as the latest thing. New kinds of outdoor lighting also became popular – backlit plastic signs and fluorescent bulbs, especially. The urban renewal movement of the 1950s and 1960s viewed neon as a means by which taverns, tattoo parlors, pawnshops and other tawdry businesses forced their presence on the urban landscape.  Suburbia, for that matter, became the exciting future – the older parts of city, itself, like their big neon signs, seemed passé.

That’s where Nodal changed things. Once the Wilshire corridor’s signs were relit, his agency moved on to Hollywood. Actually, The Broadway Hollywood is one of the last of that area’s big signs to be turned back on – others included one of the most difficult projects to date, the twin towers atop Hollywood Boulevard’s Pacific Theater, a 1928 Renaissance Revival movie palace currently used by University of Southern California to test digital projection equipment. Each has 2,000 separate incandescent bulbs. (They currently are turned off; Nodal advocates replacing the lighting system with LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, to cut down on the need to change light bulbs.)

“I wanted to fix the signs but I also was searching for a way to make history come alive,” Nodal said. “At that time, I was managing the historic preservation program for the city. I saw all the battles over bricks and mortar, and people not having vision of what history meant. I thought neon is a hip thing, it’s really from L.A. and something homegrown here, so maybe this project can really turn people on about history.”

Under Mayor James Hahn, who took office in 2001 but lost his reelection bid in 2005, the ongoing budget for LUMENS was cut. As a result, new projects were slowed and maintenance ceased. There have been only five new LUMENS-related sign-restoration projects since 2002 – The Broadway Hollywood; the nearby and smaller Hotel Plaza sign featuring multicolored flickering stars; Bendix; and the marquees of two of the glorious old downtown movie theaters, the Los Angeles and the Palace. In addition, in a controversial move, a neon outline was added to a defunct rooftop radio tower downtown.

But parallel private restoration, as well as ongoing support from regional public redevelopment agencies, has picked up some of the slack. The Kor Group, for instance, is also turning the 1930 ZigZag-Moderne-style Eastern Columbia building, one of the most attractive in the city with its blue terracotta cladding, into condos. As part of that project, it last year restored two of the four clocks on the tower, including new neon for the clock arms, numbers and the word “Eastern.” The other two will follow.

In adjacent Culver City, the redevelopment agency, which owned the vacant 1947 Streamline Deco-style Culver Theatre, required new operator Center Theatre Group to restore the neon as part of converting the building to live performances.

The $8 million project – including a $1.25 million city grant – has resulted in almost one linear mile’s worth of white neon being revived on the theater’s marquee, façade and on the 30-foot-tall tower. There, the vertically stacked word “Culver” is outlined in neon while incandescent bulbs flash on and off within the lettering’s borders. Its effect on the downtown area is like an extended lightning bolt.  “It really pops out,” said Miers of Standard Electrical Services, which did the work.

Perhaps the most important news is that Nodal says Los Angeles’ new mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, has agreed to restore enough money to LUMENS in 2006 to fix the ones that have again fallen into disrepair. Nodal, who plans to take part, estimates that will cost about $125,000. And then there are the rooftop signs he never got to that he’d still like to restore. “We did a helicopter survey of the tops of all buildings to see if signs were lying down and there were some,” he said. “And I would say there are another 200-300 signs out there not even mapped that we could do.”

The Museum of Neon Art, meanwhile, also plans to stay involved. And it wants to continue moving beyond rooftops. “We want to brainstorm and see how we can set up LUMENS, we want to keep it with the Museum of Neon Art because it can help it, but we want to get a logo for it, fundraise for it, and somehow make it part of (other) conservancy projects,” Koga said.

 “And we’ve been on the brink of this, we’d like to put some of the signs back on the buildings where they were commissioned to be,” she said. For instance, last year the museum was given a long-missing Art Deco-style neon sign that stood above the entranceway to a 1938 Wilshire camera store called The Darkroom. The building, itself, has a nine-foot-high façade designed to resemble a 35-millimeter camera and is so unique it was named a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. While the sign is damaged and without neon tubing, Koga would like to restore it and put it back on the storefront – which no longer is a camera shop. “It’d be exciting to put that sign back on the building,” she said. “Really, that would make the whole building a sign.”

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Yin and Yang of the Go-Betweens: From the Archives

Aussie cult fave returns to an L.A. stage with balanced vitality
Los Angeles CityBeat
June 23, 2005


(note -- news that Robert Forster has a new album slated for Sept. 2015 release prompted me to post this concert review/interview with Grant McLennan, done in LA before a Go-Betweens show. McLennan died in 2006 and it's good to see Forster carry on the duo's fine music-making. -- SR 8-9-15)

Live, the Go-Betweens may just be the most perfectly balanced rock band around. And it’s nice to have a rare chance to witness it. Last Saturday night (June 18) at the Troubadour, the Go-Betweens played in L.A. as an electrified band – a quartet – for the first time in 16 years. The group’s mainstays – Australian singer-songwriter/guitarists Robert Forster and Grant McLennan – were augmented by bassist Adele Pickvance and drummer Glenn Thompson, just as they are on their acclaimed new album, Oceans Apart.

Clearly, they all were a good fit. The sound balance was exquisite: The group was loud and exuberantly punchy, as befitted Forster’s and McLennan’s roots in Australia’s late-1970s post-punk rock, yet you could understand every crisply enunciated word they sang, as well as the cushioning harmony vocals by Pickvance and Thompson. Forster and McLennan split the lead vocals almost right down the middle, with both alternating between electric guitars and (plugged-in) acoustics.

The audience included many familiar with the cult-favorite albums the Go-Betweens put out in the 1980s, before Forster and McLennan split up to do solo work – to little commercial avail – during the entire 1990s. They were so good at the Troub, it was hard to believe they’d let an entire decade slip away from them. But when 1988’s 16 Lovers Lane failed to become as big a hit as they’d wanted, despite being on a major U.S. label and getting far more airplay than previous recordings, they stopped trying.

In an interview before the show, McLennan blamed that decision on frustration. “The breakup was fatigue – we hit 30, and it was time to grow up a little bit,” he said. “Robert met a woman who was to become his wife. We needed to do something apart. It just wasn’t working; it didn’t feel right. We were tired, you know, and sick of slogging our guts out. We got to a good stage on a major American label, but we really didn’t get the break we needed.”

They resumed recording together in 2000, having now put out three additional albums. And listeners at the Troubadour were keenly interested. Finally given the opportunity to hear brash, head-of-steam live versions of old favorites like the churning “Was There Anything I Could Do?,” the urgently sinewy “Cattle and Cain,” and the chiming “Streets of Your Town,” as well as newer songs “Magic in Here,” “German Farmhouse,” and “Darlinghurst Nights,” the crowd demanded three encores.

Forster and McLennan are both immensely talented, even literary, writers – the band name references a 1970 movie with an adapted screenplay by Harold Pinter – and they naturally contrast with each other in lyrical concerns. Both are at heart English romantics with a Byron-like love of the elements and a Leonard Cohen need to speak poignant truth about love. On Saturday, the ocean figured in Forster’s “Surfing Magazines” and “Spring Rain,” while stars were part of McLennan’s gorgeous new “This Night’s for You,” and his dreamy “Clouds” called forth “visions of blue” when he sang it.

But Forster is the Go-Betweens’ Reed/Cale to McLennan’s Lennon/McCartney. His songs are darker, and his vocals have an element of sonorous despair and ominous regret. The slow “Draining the Pool for You” was a particularly good example here. McLennan’s tunes and voice tend to be sweeter and more wistfully optimistic, at least on first listen, and they’re structured around irresistibly ebullient choruses. He ended the show with an extended example, “Bye Bye Pride,” that had people swaying and singing along like true believers.

Their onstage appearance also had a yin and yang. Forster looked like Senator John Kerry – tall with graying dark hair and projecting a stiff countenance in his blue blazer and dress shirt. The balding McLennan, on the other hand, seemed more like a friendly Aussie pubster in his red-and-white shirt and jeans.

The newly revitalized pair now see all those years of toiling in relative obscurity as a strength for themselves, and a bonus for intrigued listeners.

“We have a huge catalog of songs,” McLennan noted, “and, because in America we’re still off the radar, you have all this stuff to discover.”

(Grant McLennan, left, and Robert Forster.)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

"Be Here to Love Me": Review of Townes Van Zandt Documentary from Archives

From Harp Magazine, 2005

By Steven Rosen

Just the other night, at a small club in Covington, Ky., Ray Wylie Hubbard ended his set with his own reflectively melancholy ballad, “The Messenger.”

When he got to the line “And to the rock and roll gypsies/may the last song you sing/be by Mr. Van Zandt/when you’re down in old Santa Fe,” some heads nodded in understanding. Just another way, I thought, that a shared aesthetic is forming that the late, great Townes Van Zandt represented the highest achievement in blues and roots-music balladry – an inheritor of Woody Guthrie’s and Hank Williams’ legacy.

What’s remarkable about this is that Van Zandt, with his mournful songs and ruggedly somber and lonesome voice, never had much more than a cult following while alive. And awareness of him is still growing. (He died on New Year’s Day, 1997, of heart failure brought on by a lifetime of hard living. He was 52 and had started recording in the late 1960s.)

But that cult included his fellow Texas troubadours (and other kindred spirits) – Hubbard, Guy Clark, Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Kris Kristofferson, Joe Ely, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris – who wear their affection for him like a Medal of Honor. They continue to spread word of his legacy and the timeless worth of his songs like “Pancho and Lefty,” “To Live’s to Fly,” “Be Here to Love Me,” “Flyin’ Shoes,” and “Waitin’ Around to Die.”

Also spreading the word is Margaret Brown – an Austin-based filmmaker whose new documentary “Be Here to Love Me: A Film about Townes Van Zandt” is getting a Fall national theatrical release from Palm Pictures.

Poetic and even loving, yet unflinchingly honest when it could have been prosaic and sensationalistic about his life, it does him well. (Brown never knew Van Zandt.)

But then the lanky, dark-haired Van Zandt does himself well in the movie – which includes film of him singing before audiences in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. True, from the old footage and archival interviews amassed by Brown, it’s clear he often could be a self-destructive substance abuser – a heavy smoker hanging out in ramshackle housing with a shotgun and booze always nearby.

But his periods of sobriety were informed by a lucid, haunting frankness. The film’s key moment comes when a calm Van Zandt – looking weary but alert during a 1995 interview – is asked by a journalist why all his songs are so sad. “I have a few that aren’t sad – they’re hopeless,” he replies. “The rest aren’t sad, they’re just the way life goes.”

Then he looks at the (off-camera) interviewer and asks, like a teacher to a naïve student, “You don’t think life’s sad?” Waiting a few seconds, he goes on to explain his view of songwriting – and life. “By recognizing sadness you can put it aside, be happy and enjoy the happy side of life. Blues is happy music.”

It is that viewpoint that appealed to filmmaker Brown. “There’s something about hearing people sing songs about despair and heartbreak,” she says, during a telephone interview. “You remember someone else has been through an experience like yours.”

Brown got support for her project from people who knew Van Zandt – his three wives, two sons and daughter, sister, cousin and high-school friends. Admiring fellow musicians tell  their favorite stories about Van Zandt.

Yet the most telling ones come from people outside the music business. They reveal a troubled soul early on, despite being born to a comfortable Houston family. His parents institutionalized him for suicidal tendencies and he received shock therapy. And his first wife recalls how, while still newlyweds, he sequestered himself in their small apartment’s coat closet to write his first song ever – “Waitin’ Around to Die.” “I was expecting a love ballad,” she says.

No one can watch “Be Here to Love Me” without realizing Van Zandt’s music is spectacular. But his life? “I want people when they watch the film to think about the common artistic question – how much do you have to live your art,” Brown says. “I believe you have to go there to know what it’s about. But I’m not sure you have to take it as far as Townes did.”

Monday, May 11, 2015

Might The Sonics Be the Great American Rock Band?

By Steven Rosen
(From Cincinnati CityBeat 4-22-15/Huffington Post)

If there is ever a contest to declare The Great American Rock Band, past or present, The Sonics should be high in the running. True, The Beach Boys or R.E.M. or Nirvana are better known and had greater immediate impact, but The Sonics — in the best American tradition — turned their weaknesses into strengths and in so doing created an entire new aesthetic for recognizing Rock at its best.  

It just took a while for the nation — the world, actually — to catch up with them. The Tacoma, Wash.-originated Garage Rock band is touring behind its first new album in almost 50 years, This Is the Sonics. Three of the current lineup’s five members — guitarist Larry Parypa, lead singer/keyboardist Gerry Roslie and saxophonist Rob Lind — are original Sonics. With them are bassist Freddie Dennis and drummer Dusty Watson.

It wasn’t until the Punk and Post Punk generation realized, in hindsight, that the 1960s-era DIY band — teenagers inspired by the rebellious attitude of The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds and Bob Dylan — were one of Rock’s most impassioned, unpretentiously authentic and rousing. The Sonics were one of the wildest and most raw Garage Rock bands around.

Their music belatedly penetrated mass culture. The band’s nasty, snarling Rock version of R&B singer Richard Berry’s “Have Love Will Travel,” recorded in 1965 for its debut album, became familiar in recent years thanks to its use in commercials for Land Rover, BMW and Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown TV show, as well as through a notable cover version by The Black Keys. As a result, “Have Love Will Travel” is now giving another of the late Berry’s compositions — “Louie Louie” — competition for being his most famous. 

Parypa, the band’s founding guitarist, recalls — with the circumspection of a 68-year-old — how much trepidation the teenage Sonics had about their craft back in the early- and mid-1960s. 

“Our feeling was we weren’t legitimate because we couldn’t play quality Rock & Roll with great finesse and understanding of the music,” he says. “When we would play with some local band that maybe had horns and were good musicians, Gerry and I always felt like maybe we shouldn’t be there.
We were not doing anything with the quality they did.

“So we had to do it the only way we could, which was very primitive-sounding. Since we were not all that great, we pounded our instruments. Everybody just put everything they had into playing.”

Told that many Rock historians believe The Sonics, in their inspired amateurism, came up with something more memorable than all their more competent contemporaries did, Parypa says, “I don’t know if it’s better, but it certainly was a different approach to Rock & Roll.” 

At the dawn on the 1960s, Tacoma especially was a cauldron for instrumental bands, largely because one local group, The Wailers, had produced a moderate national hit called “Tall Cool One” in 1959, while another, The Ventures, had a chart-topper with 1960’s “Walk Don’t Run.” 

“I got into it because my uncle played guitar and brought it over to our house once,” Parypa says of his entry into the Rock & Roll world as a youngster. “When I heard it go through an amplifier, the sound was just mind-numbing for me. I just loved it.”

The Sonics started as an instrumental band. An early version included Parypa’s brother, and their music-loving mother sometimes played rhythm guitar. But as the lineup evolved and musical trends changed, vocals were added. Roslie began singing for the band in 1964, and that changed everything. 

“He had so much emotion,” Parypa says. “The singing and all the trills. So we wanted to utilize his great vocals. Over time, we did no instrumentals and just featured ‘Gerry Roslie Screams.’ ”

In the Pacific Northwest, where new local bands like The Kingsmen and Paul Revere & the Raiders were enjoying popularity, The Sonics got signed to a label called, amusingly, Etiquette Records. Three members of The Wailers founded Etiquette, which put out two albums, 1965’s Here Are the Sonics and 1966’s Boom, that are at the heart of The Sonics’ mystique. Raw and loud, recorded hurriedly and without restraint, their originals had a lyrical sense of danger, darkness and outright weirdness to go with their tumultuous sonic assault. 

Titles like “Strychnine,” “Psycho” and “He’s Waiting” (about the devil) were unforgettable — at least for the comparatively few nationally who heard them at the time. 

“We were not pretty,” Parypa says. “Instead of talking about losing your girlfriend, we were singing about taking strychnine.” 

But all things must pass. In 1967, the band switched to another label and made Introducing the Sonics, an album Parypa says everyone hated. (He says another studio album from 1980 bearing the band’s name is inauthentic.) The members moved on to other things after that album, save for a short reunion set in Seattle in the early 1970s.

It wasn’t until a New York promoter got them to headline a Garage Rock festival called Cavestomp! in 2007 that they realized what they had been missing. Dates in Europe followed. The band has played occasionally since then, but the current tour and new album mark The Sonics most thorough attempt at national exposure since … ever?

The new album was recorded in mono for The Sonics’ own label, Revox, by Jim Diamond, who played with The Dirtbombs and has worked in the studio with a slew of contemporary Garage Rock favorites, including Gore Gore Girls, The Mooney Suzuki and The White Stripes. The album has that same raucous, pounding edge as their Etiquette releases. There are several originals, including an unstoppable rave-up called “Bad Betty,” and vitality-injected covers of older songs, including a revved-up version of The Kinks’ “The Hard Way.” It’s an impressive return. 

“Many musicians who have stuck with music and developed and evolved over the last 50 years wouldn’t know how to go back and pretend they’re 16,” Parypa says. “But it was easier for us. We didn’t allow ourselves to become good. So here we are just hacking away, the same as we did back then.”

(The Sonics played Woodward Theater on April 23, 2015. This ran as an advance.)

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