The Sonics and Wire at Meltdown Festival 2011

Southbank Centre, London
18th June 2011

The now prestigious Meltdown is an annual festival staged at the Southbank Centre in London. In the past, the festival has been curated by the likes of Scott Walker, Ornette Coleman and David Bowie. Jeff Buckley’s final appearance in the UK, before his death, was famously at Meltdown in 1995 but this year’s event was organised by former lead singer of The Kinks, Ray Davies and his line up didn’t disappoint.

Supporting American garage rock legends The Sonics in the Royal Festival Hall are art punk Situationists Wire. Embarking on a set filled with flurries of distortion and clanging drones, Wire’s performance contains several tracks from their latest album. The radical four-piece continue to wind down to punk’s underworld with empowering chimes and jangles. Lead singer Colin Newman’s pessimistic vocals in the title track of new album ‘Red Barked Tree’ is a highlight of the evening for the London band. ‘Outdoor Miner’, from the classic 1978 album ‘Chairs Missing’ is as gloomy and heartfelt as ever.

The London band return to the stage from an encore with their final song ‘Pink Flag’. Despite enthusiastic demands from the crowd for more songs from the band’s earlier albums, Wire are more interested in continuing to experiment and play newer material. Emphasising this new direction bassist Graham Lewis ends the song by telling the Southbank crowd that “that’s about as pink as it gets”.

Introduced by Ray Davies as a group that are a “big part of American history” and “a rock band that were around way before The Kinks even had a car” The Sonics enter the stage. Opening with thunderous renditions of The Brandos’, ‘He’s Waiting’ and Barrett Strong’s ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ it is plain to see why the band’s stripped-down approach has influenced a lot of people in the rock music world, including the likes of Iggy Pop and Kurt Cobain.

Songs like ‘Cinderella’ and Little Richard cover ‘Keep A-Knockin’ (But You Can’t Come In)’ are delightfully raucous and garage rock classic ‘Strychnine’ prompts a large amount of the audience to swarm away from their seats and be able to dance closer to the stage. This is followed by the exhilarating ‘Lucille’ and the gut-wrenching ‘Psycho’. The latter is frantically performed and filled with lead vocalist Gerry Roslie’s signature neurotic screams.

Richard Berry’s warming ‘Louie Louie’, suitably the song that led to Ray Davies conceiving ‘You Really Got Me’, is the first song performed by the band after the encore. The sinister ‘Bad Attitude’ is the best of the bunch of new songs available on the latest EP release ‘8’ which is followed by their flagship tune ‘The Witch’. Raw and penetrative, the performance of this song epitomises what the Tacoma legends were all about. The Sonics were way ahead of their peers and predecessors, and tonight they lit the room. They played hard, they played fast, and it’s good to see them back.

Alex Penge

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