By Roy Trakin.
Flamin’ Groovies at the Roxy, L.A – May 13, 2015
Where have they been all these years? Hiding in plain sight, apparently. These ‘60s Bay Area rock staples are, along with the likes of MC5, Big Star The Fleshtones and the Replacements, they are under-appreciated cult bands – back when there were rock critics, they were called critical faves – beloved purveyor of rock roots at their most pure, with Chuck Berry and the Beatles mingling with psychedelic-metal, garage-punk and Brill Building pop. Like those bands, they can be wildly inconsistent, sloppy and prone to spoken tangents – all of which are in evidence on this night – but at their best, present the Platonic ideal of a ‘60s-‘70s rock band.
In one form or another, the Groovies have been playing sporadically since 2008, though the current line-up, boasting original members bewigged guitarist Cyril Jordan, lead singer Chris Wilson and bassist George Alexander (with drummer Victor Penalosa) has been active only since 2013.
Touted early on by Greg Shaw in his seminal Who Put the Bomp fanzine, the Groovies released their first album, Supersnazz, in 1969, but it wasn’t until 1976’s Sire album, Shake Some Action, with its pop anthem title track, that the group found favor with the punk crowd, opening for labelmates the Ramones – as local legend and longtime fan Rodney Bingenheimer noted in his on-stage introduction – in August 1976 in this very venue.
Opening with what Jordan referred to as “Teenage ‘Fuckin’ Head,” a song whose name he later explained he got from Kim Fowley while tripping on acid together, the band seemed a little too loud for the club sound system, but the energy stayed high for a show that careened between blissful highs and sputtering lows.
After showing off their roots with classic primal rock covers of Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon’s “Tallahassee Lassie,” The Byrds’ jangling “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” and NRBQ’s “I Want You Bad” (Cyril explains a French bootleg version was credited to them as writers and resulted in some short-lived enmity between the two bands), the group launches into a full performance of the Shake Some Action album in order, starting with the title track.
Jordan proceeds to tell the story of how he was about to toss in the towel on his music career in the ‘90s when he received a $15k royalty check for Cracker’s cover of the song in the movie Clueless. From there, it was a run through the band’s musical DNA – the stomping blues rave-ups “Sometimes” and Roddy Jackson/Sonny Christy chestnut “She Said Yeah”; the harmonic Beatlesque pop of originals “Yes It’s True,” “Please Please Girl” and a cover of “Misery” (“For years, we thought we were the Beatles,” explained Chris Wilson. “But we were actually GG Allin”); the Chuck Berry backbeat you can’t lose it of W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” and their version of his “Don’t You Lie to Me”; the electrified street corner doo-wop of “I’ll Cry Alone”; the doomy, portentous art-rock of “I Saw Her” (set to a 16th century poem by Jordan with The Charlatans’ George Hunter); the stately rocker “Teenage Confidential” and the acid-rock freak-out closer, “I Can’t Hide,” which finally lived up to the projected Joshua Light Show stage backdrop.
The encore further showed off impeccable taste, a cover of Frankie Lee Sims’ “Married Woman,” which came out in 1972 just months after the bluesman’s death, a doomy “Slow Death,” played, as Jordan described it, like “the Mothers doing Led Zeppelin, and the final, “Between the Lines,” from their 1978 Flamin’ Grooves Now album, which managed to restore the magical feeling of boogie-ing to a rock band in your local club just for the hell of it. Groovy, man.
May the cult be unbroken.