I didn’t get to see Prince at the DNA lounge here in San Francisco. I could have. I mean, if I wanted to spend $250 a ticket, that is… And yeah, I heard some tickets were made available on the day of the show for $100 each. But still, I couldn’t justify it. Maybe I’m not that much of a Prince fan after all, or perhaps I wasn’t utterly blown away when I saw him a couple years ago in San Jose. Instead, however, I was thrilled that I did get tickets for the one show that the reunited Flamin’ Groovies played in San Francisco for a much more reasonable $17 a ticket (plus service charges — but drinks at the bar were $3 — in 2013, that is rock and roll, folks!).
Why was this show significant? Well, it was the first time this version of the band had played together on the same stage in San Francisco since 1981 or so… the version of the band that created — arguably — some of the band’s most lasting music, including the now-classic power pop anthem “Shake Some Action.” This was my first time getting to see these guys, and it definitely wasn’t a disappointment. Having just returned from a tour of Japan and Australia, they were a finely oiled rock ‘n roll machine and played with a finesse rarely heard and seen on stage by bands of any era. For perspective, consider that these guys played a cover of a song by the original David Crosby era of The Byrds and if you closed your eyes you could imagine that this is what that band probably sounded like. Words like authenticity and authority don’t do The Flamin’ Groovies justice. The “real deal”? Sure.
But The Flamin’ Groovies are more than that.
A quick history lesson is in order (some of which I just learned myself, mind you!): This band started in 1965. Their second gig was at the freakin’ Cow Palace just south of San Francisco (where The Beatles played a month later!). A genuine indie band before the term was co-opted, they pressed their own 10-inch EP and eventually got a deal with Epic Records and then Kama Sutra. The labels didn’t fully know what to do with these guys, who at the time played rootsy original rock and roll with a spirit and verve not fitting in with the hard rock and psychedelia popular at the time. As punk was brewing, they wisely relocated to England and got signed to release three fine albums on Sire Records. Growing up, the few people I knew back East who had heard of these guys thought they were from England, and they might as well have been. The Ramones opened for their tours. Yeah, these guys gave The Ramones their break, and connected them with Sire Records (Chrissie Hynde too! Listen to the interview with Groovies’ guitarist Cyril Jordan, linked below).
So why don’t more people know about them? Integrity? Mismanagement? Life? Roll of the Dice? I don’t know. I suspect their story has ups and downs akin to so many fantastic bands that got a short shift from the star-making machinery of the music business, from The dBs and Big Star to The Plimsouls, Pylon and so many other bands that should have been a whole lot bigger than they were allowed to be.
The good news is The Flamin’ Groovies are still here with us, and if I’m remember things I read before the show and heard at the concert correctly, they are going to record a new album soon. This is great! This version of the band really needs to be captured for posterity.
And then they should tour the states and you … and you! … and you and you! … should all go to check them out. Because at the end of the day, a good rock and roll show can make your day brighter and even change your life; don’t sit around waiting for a special on cable TV. Go out to a club an you might meet some cool people there and get inspired, to boot. For me, I had both experiences at this show: among the many nice people my friend David and I met at the show included the lead singers from the opening band (Rue 66 — ’60s rock and roll cover tunes, all sung in French!), and a very cool record collector (owner of some 60,000 albums!) and Flamin’ Groovies fan from Seattle who flew down for this one show (now that is dedication!). We even got to say hi briefly to Groovy Chris Wilson as he came out from the stage to greet fans.
Heck, I was so inspired by the show I wrote a new song the next day (a very British Invasion-inspired tune, of course)!
There haven’t been many good quality videos from the show appearing yet on YouTube, but I did find some cool clips from the Japanese and Australian tour, which will give you an idea of what the band is like live. I’ve also posted some older clips too to give you an idea of what they have sounded like in the studio over the years.
Click here to listen to a wonderful recent interview by Girrl George with Flamin’ Groovies co-founder Cyril Jordan, which includes not only a good history of the band, but also amazing insight into the San Francisco music scene back in the day.
And here’s a taste of a recent overseas performance:
Here they are in 1972 on French TV (this song sounds like it should have been on The Stones’ Exile On Main Street LP):
Here is their hit from 1976, Shake Some Action:
“Teenage Head” — I bet The Black Crowes listened to this once or twice…