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The Sonics are Tacoma

Legendary protopunk game-changers return to Tacoma for a cacophonous homecoming

The Sonics promise to rock the house at Alma Mater Sunday night. Photo credit: Bobbi Barbarich

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There's no need to mince words, here, so let's just begin with two irrefutable statements: The Sonics are one of the greatest rock bands of all time, and they are, perhaps more than any other band, synonymous with Tacoma. Call them the godfathers of punk, call them profoundly influential to several generations of musicians, or just call them a band that rocked hard enough to escape the still-nascent ‘60s music scene of Tacoma. Something primal lurks in the howling cacophony of bonafide classics like "Psycho," "Strychnine," and "Have Love, Will Travel," a kind of visceral urgency that remains untouched by the passage of time.

In 2015, nearly 50 years after the release of their last studio album, the Sonics once more ventured into the studio to record another album of frantic wails and bracingly raw rock. Titled This is the Sonics, the record came as a surprise to some, showing that the Sonics hadn't lost a single step, that they could still assail the microphone and lay down some more searing, R&B-inflected garage punk. Since then, the Sonics' lineup has been pared down to just one original member -- Rob Lind, on saxophone and vocals -- joined by Dusty Watson on drums, Evan Foster on guitar, Jake Cavaliere on keys, and Don Wilhelm on bass. In September, they'll be getting back in the studio to record an EP.

But first, they'll be returning to Tacoma to play at Alma Mater, a venue they'd initially played in the ‘60s, when it was still known as the Carpenters Building.

"Just to be inside those walls, where we played rock and roll when we were 17, is really cool," says Lind. "Wherever we play, I always address the crowd and say, ‘It's really great to be home.' Well, that's nonsense. Seattle's not home. But I can say that in Tacoma, and it'll be absolutely right, because that's where we came from."

The Sonics' unpolished, wild sound is frequently credited with planting the seeds for punk, and going on to inspire legends like Kurt Cobain, Jack White, and the Flaming Lips, but Lind demurs a little bit when the subject of their lasting legacy is brought up.

"Back in the ‘60s, all we were doing was playing the way that we wanted," said Lind. "Over in the UK, some well-meaning interviewer will say, ‘How did you guys decide to invent punk rock?' We didn't invent anything; that's just the way we play. In the ‘60s, the Seattle bands were very high quality musicians -- they were jazzier and more lyrical. Down in Tacoma, our dads were all blue collar. My dad worked for 55 years at a lumber company down on Ruston Way, running a crane and putting lumber on ships. It was more hardscrabble, sort of like the difference between London and Liverpool. We didn't want to play jazz, or anything; we wanted to play Little Richard, and we did. We wanted to rock. Anything that rocked, in those days, we wanted to do. The ‘60s Sonics were the story of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. When the five of us got together, something happened, and it got real powerful."

The last time the Sonics performed in their hometown of Tacoma was in 2012. Getting the opportunity to catch them in town is one that absolutely can't be missed. What's Rob Lind's prediction for the show?

"We're going to lay it on the line," Lind says. "We're going to really rock that place. We're gonna rattle the liquor bottles at the bar."

THE SONICS, w/ Acid Tongue, 7 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 26, Alma Mater, 1322 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, $25-$70,


Besides the Sonics, the event that should be capturing your attention this weekend is the fifth annual Hilltop Street Fair on Saturday. One of the city's festivals that feels most intimately "Tacoma," the Hilltop Street Fair features an abundance of vendors and music. Make a day of it, and experience the best of talent and expression in Tacoma.

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