by Keith Boyd
Last night I saw Los Dug Dug’s, The Pretty Things and The Standells at The Casbah! Or maybe it was Los Spiders, The Small Faces and Buffalo Springfield? Nah…Actually it was Los Sweepers, The Loons and Mystic Braves and it was ON FIRE! I’m a complete and utter devotee of the vast catalog of known and unknown mid-60’s bands who in one way or another defined the Beatles-inspired Garage Music scene. More likely than not these bands had no intention of staying in the confines of the garage, basement or bedroom. They probably had their sights set on The Avalon, Matrix or any number of 1960’s clubs and festivals but we all know how it goes with Rock bands…Between the Vietnam War, drugs, an indifferent industry and life in general countless numbers of these Freakbeat combos spawned, mushroomed and faded from the scene in a remarkably short period. Compilations such as the amazing Nuggets series brought many of these groups to broader attention in the 80’s and just as the 1st generation of groups grew seemingly overnight in places as wide-ranging as Spain, Australia, Indonesia and yes, the deserts of Southern California a new groundswell of incredible musicians picked up the mantle and ran with it. San Diego has long been a hub of bands in the key of Garage. The 80’s were a particularly fecund time for it and last night Mike Stax’s group The Loons showed everyone how it’s done.
Los Sweepers opened the night and blew minds with their day at the races energy. I can’t say for certain but I think they might have played EVERY hit from 1966 AND sang them in Spanish! You could be forgiven of rethinking you’d stumbled into an El Centro High School gymnasium dance sponsored by Wolfman Jack. Despite playing such well-worn tunes as Wild Thing (Transfored into “LOCO”!!) and Hang on Sloopy (reworked as “Vamos Lupe”!!) they managed through the simple equation of bass, guitar, drums and ENERGY to win the crowd over and make a joyful noise.
The Loons are a San Diego treasure. Incredible playing by all members is channelled into a seriously punchy frenzy by lead singer, music historian and all around Rock Lifer Mike Stax. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing The Loons a few times over the years and while they’ve always been great, they continue to get better and better. Among their relentlessly powerful set were a few favorites, ‘My Desolation”, “Inside Out Your Mind” and “I Don’t Live There Anymore” but the whole show was fantastic. At one point Stax was bashing away on a tambourine with the phrase, ACID BLUES splashed across it. It was a fitting theme for this band’s music. Truly The Loons are a San Diego Treasure. Get out and see them whenever you can.
The headliners of the night were the LA-based Mystic Braves. They have their sound absolutely dialed in. Swirling organs, plucky, reverb soaked guitars and beautiful harmonies were in deep abundance. The band’s incredible albums were all represented in the set and the tightness that comes with frequent touring was powerfully evident. While Los Sweepers and The Loons generated Iggy levels of energy Mystic Braves vibe was much more chilled. I kept thinking that their music would fit nicely on the Easy Rider soundtrack.
Despite my numerous references to vintage bands, sounds and styles I simply must add that this wasn’t just a dress-up, look backwards retro type of deal. Yes, these musicians have all done a deep study of EVERYTHING from roughly 1965-1974 but…they all made these influences serve their own unique musical vision. It was just a euphoric, Cave-Stomping good time. The always excellent Casbah did it again.