October 23, 2002

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Local Live

Sermon
Parkside, Oct. 5

Over the first weekend of October, current S.F. garage rock H.Q. the Parkside hosted something called the Budget Rock Showcase, and the lineup consisted of something like 20 bands. The Flakes, the Vaticans, the Ghosts, the Easys, the Maybellines, the Red Barons, uh, the Cashiers, the Omens.... I don't know what happened to the Plates, the Dishes, the Forks, the Spoons, the Forks and Spoons, the Haversacks, the Ad 'Em Ups, the Sheets, the Shots, the Shoots, the Shits, the Shats, the Shit-Shats, or the Sweatys, but it was a crazy weekend over there by the Connecticut Yankee – 20 bands, three chords, and a boozehound atmosphere that would make your uncle Ervin proud.

I went over to see the Sermon, who have nice flyers and a bit of a "buzz" as the S.F. answer to the burgeoning garage-rock-gone-global scene typified by such bands as the Hives, the Vines, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs – seeing a pattern here? I mean really, what is up with this "place-ironic-or-meaningless-plural-noun-here" thing? Besides the fact that it's annoying. I think the point is that originality isn't something garage rock folks really give two shits about. This isn't a put-down; it's just a statement of fact. Garage rock has more to do with getting in touch with your primal urge, screaming at the top of your lungs, and blacking out than it has to do with reinventing r'n'r. If you ask me, those are honorable principles for a genre of music to have.

Anyway, the Sermon delivered. They got out of their heads; they inspired the crowd to do the same; there was screaming, a few blaring guitar solos, a theremin warbling underneath the parts of songs that were the offspring of that middle section in "Loose" by the Stooges. The set was made up almost entirely of originals, and the music followed a pretty straight Sonics-Stooges blueprint, with a heavy dose of soul à la the Detroit Cobras to get the people dancing. The third song they played was an absolutely devastating take on that one riff that every good garage band has to have in their repertoire – the one that started with the Sonics "Cinderella," turned up again as "Loose," and then again later on Pussy Galore's "Mono Man" – that riff that charges ahead like a very heavy American automobile and lands like a slug in your gut before slapping your skull and starting over. The Sermon hit that one right on the head and dispelled my initial misgivings about going to see them.

I went with more than a little skepticism in tow because, to be honest, this whole rebirth-of-garage-rock thing has me a little nervous. I hold my Gories and Sonics records in a special, personal place, and to see Mick Collins name-checked in articles about these people with perfect hair and New York states of mind makes me bristle with a feeling that is something like protectiveness but closer to a fragmentation grenade of plain old hostility.

But I was pleasantly surprised by the Sermon, and it was good to see a band play music that rocked without sliding into the trap of "real rock that really rocks" or worse, "real rock 'n' roll." Is there anything worse than bands that claim to play "real rock 'n' roll"!? The answer is no – there is nothing worse than that.

The thing about garage rock today that troubles me most is the way musicians are now able to play their instruments. That is bad. Look at the Gories, whom everybody's always saying are their biggest influence – those guys could barely play. They covered John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillen" because it was three notes.

While the Sermon didn't learn the humpin' blues first (nobody does, really – that's why the Gories ruled), they did learn some white soul, maximum R&B type of thing that sounded like the Yardbirds, because they do have that swing. They tread a fine line with the instrumental-proficiency-versus-the-beauty-of-ineptitude thing, but it just means garage rock is changing. And really no one is ever going to sound like the Gories again, or the Sonics, and people who fear the changes in a genre of music are the worst people to talk to about music, so maybe I should just shut up. Whatever. The bottom line is this: the Sermon are a band who are able to capture a bit of the spirit those bands shot for, and for garage rock, that is the best thing a band can do.

The Sermon play Fri/18, 10 p.m., Bottom of the Hill, S.F. (415) 621-4455. (Mike McGuirk)