The Sonics – “Live at Easy Street” (2016)

thesonicsliveeasystreetversionThis is the Record Store Day release I was most excited about this year.  I always thought it would be cool to have a live show that I attended come out as an album, and this is the first time that it actually happened.  To be fair, Live at KEXP – Volume Eight does include a live performance of “Over” by Gusgus that I saw in person at Reykjavik’s KEX Hostel, but that was just one song on a compilation.  For Live at Easy Street, I was one of maybe 200 people who were lucky enough to get inside Easy Street Records for this performance by The Sonics on RSD 2015. (♠)  So check another item off of my musical bucket list.  Now if only Led Zeppelin would do a reunion concert…

The record itself is a limited release of 3,500. However, the gang over at Easy Street put their own spin on it, taking 500 copies and custom packaging those with all kinds of extra goodies.

  • A special fold over cover sheet that is hand numbered
  • A liner notes booklet written by Easy Street owner Matt Vaughn that goes into depth as to how the show came to be (and came together in only a week!)
  • A ticket from the show (these appear to be identical to the actual tickets issued that night, with the exception of the tab on the right which was cut off when we entered the venue; the ticket included here is complete)
  • A copy of the set list that shows who the special guests were on each song
  • A download card for two extra songs that don’t appear on the record – “Sugaree” and “Be a Woman”

My copy also has a smaller black and white version of the limited edition poster that was given to those who attended the show.  It’s much smaller than the original and a different color scheme – the originals were brown and tan, much larger (full poster sized), and all individually numbered.  I’m told that only copies numbered 1 through 100 had these posters inserted, but I haven’t been able to validate that – but my copy is below 100 and has the poster, for what it’s worth.

Because KEXP participated in the event, the show was treated to a high quality recording which is why we have this record today.  And let me tell you, it sounds outstanding.  They squeezed 14 tracks on here, which means you miss a lot of the banter and the introductions of special guest performers, but that’s where the set list helps.

And those special guests… man, it was a veritable who’s who in Seattle rock.  Van Conner (Screaming Trees), Chris Ballew (Presidents of the United States of America), Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Calvin Johnson (Beat Happening), Matt Lukin (Mudhoney/Melvins), Mike McCready (Pearl Jam), Ben Shepherd (Soundgarden)… it was a crazy night and seemed like every song had another surprise waiting to come out onto the stage.  It’s amazing that so many people were able to be pulled together in less than a week to participate, and it shows the kind of influence The Sonics have had on Seattle rockers for decades.

IMG_0803

The Sonics sound tight as hell throughout the album.  Unfortunately, per the liner notes, there were a few songs the band didn’t feel were up to snuff, so “Strychnine” and “Shot Down” didn’t make the cut… so we don’t get a chance to hear Calvin Johnson and Mike McCready with The Sonics, which is a bummer.  That being said, the tracks that were selected are near studio quality and clean, with a perfect mix throughout the sonic range.  Bottom line – you won’t find a better sounding live album anywhere.

It’s tough to pick favorites on Live at Easy Street because the band sounds so damn good.  Matt Vaughan’s introduction of the band at the start of the set and album opener “Cinderella” conveys the overall excitement and energy in the room that night, and the band tears it up (especially the harmonica).  “Louie Louie” is of course a favorite here in Seattle.  Don’t believe me?  Well, consider this – in 1985 there was a legitimate attempt to make it the official state song for Washington.  In fact, the WSDOT (Washington State Department of Transportation) actually lists “Louie Louie” on it’s website as the state’s  “Rock Song (Unofficial).”  When my highs school team traveled to a national tournament in 1989 we provided it to the organizers as the state song and we’re introduced to it (maybe the closest I’ve ever come to actually having my own wrestling-style intro music). We take our “Louie Louie” seriously out here.  But don’t take my word for it.  You can see a big chunk of the show below (alas, excluding “Louie Louie”…) thanks to our friends at KEXP.

The Sonics are pure old school garage psych rock, and 50 years after their first album was released they can still play the hell out of some rock ‘n’ roll.  So if you’re into the old school sound, this one is a must have.

(♠) Per the liner notes, there were 168 paid admissions (at $100 apiece, with the money going towards the new KEXP radio studio and performance space, a worthy cause) and another 40 guests inside.  But part way through Easy Street opened it’s big garage doors out to the street so those on the sidewalk were able to experience it too.

UPDATE MAY 3, 2016:  I got an email from Easy Street owner Matt Vaughan confirming that the poster insert was limited to the first 100 numbered copies.  Also, the shop still has some of their special limited edition versions for sale, so if you want one, hit ’em up at easystreetonline.com.