Fans of power pop, garage rock, blues and punk have all expressed admiration for Flamin' Groovies and the group's contributions to rock and roll over the years, and its performance at Lee's Palace on Wednesday night reflected all of those genres.
The Groovies formed in San Francisco in 1965 and have gone through both personnel changes and long periods of inactivity, but three-quarters of what's generally considered the classic lineup reformed earlier this year and gave many of us who thought we'd never see the band the chance to see our hopes become a reality.
Lead guitarist Cyril Jordan, singer/guitarist Chris Wilson and bassist George Alexander convened with young drummer Victor Penalosa and wowed my friend Craig Laskey when he saw them in San Francisco in May, and he got me pumped for this week's performance. I've been a fan since the late '70s, so that was hardly necessary, but it was appreciated -- especially since he was the guy who brought the quartet to Toronto.
The Groovies have been noted for their astute choice of covers almost as much as they have been for their original songs over the years, and Wednesday's set featured a balance of both.
The band opened with a cover of The Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and it was apparent right away that these guys are musicians through and through. But Wilson's voice was definitely off and sometimes sounded hoarse. It soon became apparent that more than the seemingly well-refreshed Wilson's voice wasn't quite right. He talked a lot of nonsense in between songs, made a request to Toronto mayor "Bob" Ford for "a huff," frequently held proceedings up to tune his guitar and had to be told by Jordan what was happening next before almost every song.
It was much more professional in San Fran, Laskey assured me. But this raggedness and the possibility that the show could fall apart at any point gave it the spirit of punk rock that many in the crowd grew up on. That crowd included a lot of local musicians, including: guitarists Travis Good, Fred Robinson, Gord Cumming, Jeff MacNeil and Rob Sweeney; drummers Teddy Fury, Cleave Anderson and Sean Dignan; and singer/songwriter Kate Boothman.
Jordan held things together with his guiding hand and the rhythm section helped too, but the band's sound man unfortunately lost some of the bassist and drummer's contributions via a sometimes muddy mix that was loud but not as well-defined as it could have been, and an occasional squeal and crackle also emanated from the amplifiers.
Wilson's voice issues hampered some harmonies, but Jordan's jangly guitar work showed that he's a master of his craft on a set highlighted by covers of Freddy Cannon's "Tallahassee Lassie," The Byrds' "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better," NRBQ's "I Want You Bad," Tampa Red/Chuck Berry's "Don't You Lie To Me" and the Stones' "Paint It Black," as well as originals "Yeah My Baby," "You Tore Me Down," "Please Please Girl," "Between The Lines" and "Slow Death."
The Groovies' 70-minute set ended with a song that Jordan introduced by saying, "If you don't know what it is, you don't belong here." We all knew what it was going to be. The title track of the group's 1976 Dave Edmunds-produced album has been covered by so many people and is such a great song that you'd think it was a huge hit, but it inexplicably wasn't. I'm talking "Shake Some Action."
The quartet left the stage, but it was folly to think that it wouldn't return without playing at least one more song. I was really hoping that five people would take the stage to perform it, however. I'd seen Teenage Head co-founder Gord Lewis at the back of the club earlier in the night and, since his band was named after a Groovies song and album, I thought it would be fitting if he was at least acknowledged if not invited to perform the last number of the night. It wasn't to be, but I'll never quibble with hearing the guys who wrote "Teenage Head" perform it.
This wasn't a pristine show by any means, but it was a rock-and-roll event that I'm glad I was part of.
I found out earlier this evening that my friend Keats passed away today. I know that he would have liked this set too, and I was thinking about him as I wrote this. He'll be missed.
Thanks to Matzoh Ball for sharing his videos from Wednesday night. He's moving to Austin, Texas soon and will also be missed, but I know that I'll be seeing him again.