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Live From Birmingham: The Sonics, Otis Gibbs, George Huxley & John Altman

Live From Birmingham: The Sonics, Otis Gibbs, George Huxley & John Altman
Martin Longley By

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The Sonics
The Institute
July 28, 2015

The Sonics virtually created the garage band sound, back in the mid-1960s, taking the foundations of rhythm'n'blues and forcing a leap towards further extremity, continuing the mission begun by Link Wray, but using warped pop song structures instead of instrumental grinding. Surely this Tacoma gang's influence subsequently hung down into the eager mouths of The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, The Modern Lovers, The Cramps, The Fall, The Gun Club and Jon Spencer's Blues Explosion, to name just a few likely (or even confirmed) acolytes. The Sonics were dispersed for decades, but have been strongly re-united since 2007, finally releasing an album of new material in 2015, lovingly mono in nature. This platter was heavily featured during their set in The Institute's middle-sized room, The Library, which they managed to fill quite tightly. This was presumably the combo's first visit to Birmingham in their 45-year existence.

Fortunately, the surviving members make up the personality-loaded front line of keyboards, saxophone and guitar, with most of the lead vocals taken by (plastic) ivory-tinkler Gerry Roslie. Sadly, his organ and piano sounds were often buried in the mix, and the saxophone didn't fare much better, although the vocals were loud and clear. No problems with the drums, bass and lead guitar, though. This was effective as a wall-of-sound, but there were times where some highlighted organ-gushing would have upped the general crazed quotient. Tenor man Rob Lind's harmonica solos on a few of the numbers were adequately boosted, adding a burning extra to the already stoking array of constantly-soloing front-line activity. Bassman Freddie Dennis (a former Kingsman) ably displayed his high-holler vocals on several songs, but Roslie's voice was also still in shape for similarly extreme screams, always in tune, despite their raucous attack.

The classics ran rampant, with "Boss Hoss" being a less-acknowledged gem, and "Psycho" charging forth soon after. Stand-outs from the new album were "Be A Woman," "Bad Betty" and the best of all, "I Got Your Number" (which happens to be 666!). Notable covers were "Have Love, Will Travel," "Louie, Louie" and "Keep A-Knockin.'" After nearly an hour, the set finished surprisingly early, but there had to be an encore, so a pair of their crucial numbers could be unchained, to demonstrate what must have been a particularly extreme stance back in 1964 and '65. "Strychnine" and "The Witch" are still amongst the greatest rock'n'roll songs ever written, and The Sonics delivered them with a mean gusto. This gig didn't match the excessive wipe-out of their 2007 show at Warsaw in Brooklyn, but the house was still ultra-heated by their devilish commitment to sheer, stompin' chaos, sculpted with finger-wounding edges.

Otis Gibbs
The Kitchen Garden Café
July 29, 2015

Otis Gibbs is a stitcher of tales, although some of these might qualify as tall. This troubadour from Indianapolis suburb Wanamaker returned to Birmingham suburb Kings Heath after a two year gap, to serenade an intimate gathering that had nevertheless necessitated the arrangement of a few extra chairs to accommodate a late rush of walk-in punters. Gibbs shares a similar aura to that of Brett Sparks of The Handsome Family: dry, perverse, rasp-voiced, bushy-bearded and brandishing an acoustic guitar. Under his floppy hat, and behind his spectacles and facial hedge, Gibbs might possibly be an alternative country singer, but there's just as much folk-blues, gospel and sheer ornery acoustic outsider rock balladry. He spins tragi-comic yarns that prompt blended responses, with most of the weight being taken by his voice, whether sung, intoned or simply talking, all of which possess varying degrees of musicality.

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