Concert Review: The Flamin’ Groovies—A Half-Century in the Trenches of Coolness
What the Groovies did—avoiding long solos and self-importance, championing three-minute songs, Stones energy, and Byrds harmonies—was a revelation in 1971.
By Brett Milano
The best thing you can say about a 45-year-old band is that it still lives for the moment. No better example than the Flamin’ Groovies, who played Brighton on Thanksgiving Eve. Wrapping the night’s set, they did a classic rock anthem of their own, “Teenage Head,” and a classic rock anthem of everybody’s, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” putting the same bravado into both. And that’s the Groovies in a nutshell, doubling as a rock institution and the best party band in town.
The band had possibly done a bit of partying itself before hitting the stage at the Brighton Music Hall on Wednesday; the five-minute break to change one guitar string was the giveaway. But those were the only five boring minutes out of the 75 that they played; the rest was a mix of R&B wail and 12-string chime, vintage tracks and appropriate covers (including “I Want You Bad” from another of rock’s unsung-hero bands, NRBQ). Highlight of the set was inevitably “Shake Some Action,” the title track of their best album in 1975, and since covered by generations of bands in Boston and otherwise—It’s unique among rock anthems for the minor-key melancholy in the verses, evincing an unrequited joie de vivre. Three-quarters of the band who recorded that song is still intact (drummer Victor Penalosa is the new guy), and they still tear through it like kids who’ve just discovered their manifesto. Though singer/guitarist Chris Wilson is the nominal frontman, it’s founding guitarist Cyril Jordan who exudes the rock-star charisma, wearing his half-century in the trenches as a badge of coolness.
What the Groovies did—avoiding long solos and self-importance, championing three-minute songs, Stones energy, and Byrds harmonies—was a revelation in 1971, especially in their hometown of San Francisco; and paved the way for new wave and power pop. So it made sense that the three local openers on Wednesday were all Groovies’ spiritual progeny. Fireking is the kind of band who’d be huge if they still played local music on the radio: Frontman Anthony Kaczynski has the kind of sweet-but-gutsy voice that cuts through the airwaves (think of Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander), his songs are packed with hooks, and he’s not shy about pouring on the guitar heroics. “Just Like Sunday,” whose chorus melody takes a few surprising jumps, stood out among the lovingly crafted tunes in their set.
New Hampshire’s the Connection were the youngest of the lot, the only band in its 20s I’ve seen do justice to a Chuck Berry song in memory. Their set was high on infectious pub-rock energy, highlighted by an original tune called “I Think She Digs Me.” They may not know that Treat Her Right had a local hit with nearly the same title, but it hardly matters: Their hook was just as strong, and while THR’s song was cool swagger, the Connection’s was all about the kick you get when your nightclub crush is returned.
As for Muck & the Mires, they’ve been one of my favorite local bands for years now. What they do sounds simple on paper—combining British Invasion songcraft with Ramones-inspired blast—but you can’t pull it off without a killer rhythm section and memorable songs. Frontman Evan Shore supplies the latter by the truckload—this was in fact their second local gig within a week, and both featured entirely different 20-odd song sets. The standout songs in Wednesday’s set caught them at both extremes: “Saturday Let Me Down Again” is one of their rare midtempo weepers, while “Hypnotic Spell” (written at the behest of legendary LA producer Kim Fowley, who demanded “something stupid”) is too giddy to resist.
Brett Milano has been covering music in Boston for decades, and is the author of Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting (St. Martins, 2001) and The Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock & Roll (Commonwealth Editions, 2007). He recently returned from New Orleans where he was editor of the music and culture magazine OffBeat. His latest book is Don’t All Thank Me At Once (125 Records), a biography of the unsung pop genius Scott Miller, who led the bands Game Theory and The Loud Family.