Ring in the New Year with local rock legends

December 19, 2010 

We keep threatening to head to downtown Olympia some weekend night for a late night on the town, complete with rock 'n' roll music and dancing.

But we never make it, settling instead for CDs and occasional dancing in the living room. Usually we’re in bed by 10 p.m., not awake long enough to catch the evening news or “Saturday Night Live.”

Heck, the last concert we went to was two years ago – The Pretenders at the Paramount in Seattle. Talk about a couple of party- poopers.

That string of quiet, sleepy weekend nights is about to end. I have in my wallet a pair of tickets to see the legendary Sonics on New Year’s Eve at the Capitol Theater in Olympia. They probably won’t come on stage until sometime around 11 p.m. – well past our normal bedtime. I’d better start resting to get ready.

To call this a trip down memory lane is an understatement. I last saw this Tacoma pioneer punk rock band in 1965 at the Red Carpet teen club on Pacific Avenue in Tacoma.

What an impression they made on my 16-year-old, coming-of-age brain. The screaming voice of Gerry Roslie, the buzzing bass guitar of Larry Parypa, the thunderous drumming and the raw lyrics of songs such as “Psycho,” “The Witch” and “Have Love, Will Travel” stuck in my musical memory like glue.

Influenced by early-’60s bands such as the Kingsmen and the Wailers, the Sonics were more abrasive, louder and raunchier than the others.

They rolled out of the garage and into South Sound dance clubs and high school gymnasiums just before the Beatles and Rolling Stones started the British rock invasion. If you’re looking for an English comparison to the Sonics, think the Kinks, with songs like “You Really Got Me” and “Gloria.”

The Sonics blazed across the Pacific Northwest rock ’n’ roll scene with their searing sound, performing on two solid albums – “Here are the Sonics” and “Boom” – produced by The Fabulous Wailers bassist Buck Ormsby for Etiquette Records, followed by a third album produced in Hollywood and featuring a cleaner, more refined sound that the band didn’t even like.

By the late 1960s, the band members had gone their separate ways, but not before laying the musical foundation for grungy bands with names like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Mudhoney.

“They were the original punk band in America,” said George Barner, an early rock ’n’ roll vocalist from Olympia who also has dabbled in politics. He, too, remembered seeing them at the Red Carpet all those years ago.

“It was awesome,” the Port of Olympia commissioner said.

The band maintained a cult following and a hardcore fan base that kept begging them to come back and perform. Finally, in November 2007, the Sonics reunited, playing at the Cavestomp Garage rock festival in New York City. Despite the rust, the performance drew a solid review in The New Yorker magazine.

Buoyed by the reception and the rush of performing again, the reconstituted Sonics – they still feature three original members (Roslie, Parypa and saxophonist Rob Lind) – have been touring off and on ever since. They are especially popular in Europe, having just returned from gigs in Greece and Italy.

Their last local concert was at the Paramount in Seattle on Halloween night 2008. Pat Lee, an Olympia-based rock ’n’ roll enthusiast who has recorded thousands of hours of Pacific Northwest band performances, was there, seeing the Sonics for the first time since they performed at Olympia High School in the mid-1960s.

“They’ve still got it,” Lee said. “They’re still on top of their game.”

The Sonics’ show at the Capitol Theater was organized by Audrey Henley, theater manager and events director for the Olympia Film Society. The 38-year-old former booking agent and band manager can barely contain her excitement.

“I’ve been trying to get them to perform at the theater for two years,” she said. The concert finally came together Nov. 20 after months of conversation and negotiations, much of it with Ormsby, who’s still connected to the band.

Ormsby checked out the venue and saw the potential for a pretty special night. The show will be recorded live, including a video. Opening acts include The Dirty Birds and November Witch.

“We’re really going to ring in 2011,” Henley said.

The 1,000 tickets for the show are going fast. The theater seats 766, so some of the concert-goers will probably spend the entire night on their feet.

I think we’ll arrive early enough to get a seat; the doors open at 8 p.m. We’ll leave the all-night foot-stomping to the younger crowd and head upstairs with the 60-something crowd, which I’m sure will spend a fair share of time on their feet too.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444 jdodge@theolympian.com

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