Another New Flamin’ Groovies Lineup

IMG_1380The reunion this decade of the Flamin’ Groovies, the San Francisco band formed in the 60s’ that made its biggest mark in the 70s, hasn’t been easy.

Earlier tours were hit and miss, but inspirational enough for co-founding member Cyril Jordan and crew to record a new album in 2017. Part of the shakiness of recent tours was due to Chris Wilson who was co-writer of a lot of the 70s power pop stuff, including their classic “Shake Some Action.” The Massachusetts-born Wilson, who long ago transplanted to England, is officially on hiatus now. So for what they called the “Trick or Treat 2019 U.S. Tour,” which stopped at City Winery in D.C. Friday, Jordan was backed by Chris Von Sneidern, who played bass on the 2017, now playing guitar, and bassist Atom Ellis — both are seasoned San Francisco players; Ellis worked with Dieselhed and backed Link Wray from 1996-2003 (and was wearing a Wray T-shirt in D.C.).

On drums was Tony Sales — not the bassist who played with Runt, Iggy Pop and David Bowie’s Tim Machine, but his son. That would make the young drummer the grandson of comedian, kids’ TV host and sometime recording artist Soupy Sales (It all goes to make some fans seem particularly old, having been entertained now by three generations of Sales).

The new faces didn’t help reproduce many of the harmonies that shone on the Dave Edmunds-produced ”Shake Some Action” and its followups. Mostly it was Jordan who tried to hold up the lyrics alone with minimal help from Von Sneidern if any.

The main way they tried to solve the problem was to mix the vocals way down in favor of the guitars. Those riffs were part of what made those songs so great, so that seemed to work. Mostly, the band continued the kind of inspiration that sparked it in the first place – love for classic rock and roll.

Hence they began, somewhat tentatively, with Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around,” and the kind of Byrds jangle that would also come to identify their sound, on “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better.”

Then came time for the title track of Shake, but surprisingly without the harmonies that made it soar. Nevertheless, the band stretched it out with additional choruses to keep the vibe going.

There were fewer selections from that album than they had played on previous reunion swings this decade. Among the exceptions were “Yes It’s True,” which Jordan says they wrote as a response to The Beatles “All I’ve Got to Do,” and almost sounds like the same song with the chords in different order. The other was “You Tore Me Down,” which they played as succinctly as the original recording.

That wasn’t the case with other selections. In fact, what looks like a very short set list was stretched out by long versions of a lot of the old songs, with a lot of guitar interplay between Jordan and Von Sniedern. They have have undercut the intent of the original recordings, but it helped the sometimes shaky road band really solidify by the time the songs were over.

Jordan was clearly the leader of this road band; when he stopped to tune, everything stopped and nobody else spoke; they were waiting for the boss.

Instead of playing a single thing from their 2017 album “Fantastic Plastic,” there was far more from the Ron Loney-led version of the band of more than a half century ago. In fact they ended the main set with three songs from “Teenage Head,” an album that came out in 1971, the same year as the Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers,” and which Jordan claims Mick Jagger prefers over his own.

For these oldies Sales took lead vocals for two; Von Sniedern for the title track. They provided just the energy the band needed to jam out on the old songs.

When they returned in the encore, for just one song, it was for “Slow Death,” the anti-drug song that got them banned on the BBC and in no way described the prevailing exuberance of their show.

The Groovies had solid support for the show with an appearance by the Boston garage band Muck and the Mires. The quartet, with matching maroon shirts, is led by the swagger of Evan Shore who in his hair and shades somewhat resembles Question Mark of the Mysterians. With a passel of great songs — and top notch period equipment— they were so authentic they could slip in a cover of Uruguayan Beatles-era rockers Los Shakers’ fantastic “Break It All” and have it fit right in with their catchy originals. Fueled with pointed guitar by Peter Sjostedt and drummer Linda Shore, they are as much the standard bearers for a fierce, joyful 60s sound as are the headliners.

The setlist for the Flamin’ Groovies Friday was:

  • “Around and Around”
  • “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better”
  • “Shake Some Action”
  • “First Plane Home”
  • “Jumpin’ in the Night”
  • “Yes It’s True”
  • “Way Down Under”
  • “You Tore Me Down”
  • “Have You Seen My Baby”
  • “Yesterday’s Numbers”
  • “Teenage Head”
  • “Slow Death”
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