Sonic's Rendezvous Band

Sonic's Rendezvous Band

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At a time when even the most hapless garage band has its demo posted on MySpace, footage of its last basement show available on YouTube, and a stack of CD-Rs for sale at its most humble gigs, the enigma that is Sonic's Rendezvous Band seems all but impossible to fathom -- a world-class rock band featuring musicians of national (and even international) acclaim whose music managed to go almost entirely without public documentation during its six-year existence. Formed by former MC5 guitarist and songwriter Fred "Sonic" Smith in 1975, Sonic's Rendezvous Band also included former Rationals frontman Scott Morgan, who traded off with Smith on lead vocals and contributed rhythm guitar, as well as drummer Scott Asheton (former timekeeper with Iggy & the Stooges), and bassist Gary Rasmussen (a veteran of proto-punk troublemakers the Up). Sonic's Rendezvous Band were a potent club draw in Michigan, but they were all but ignored outside of the Midwest, and the shambling, drug-damaged reputation of the latter-day MC5 and Stooges discouraged much serious record company interest. The group self-released a single in 1978, but due to squabbles within the band, the intended B-side, "Electrophonic Tonic," was scrapped and the same tune, "City Slang," appeared on both sides, in stereo and mono mixes. "City Slang" was a thoroughly amazing recording, a brilliant encapsulation of the Detroit high-energy mythos overflowing with passion, precision, and blazing guitar work, but there was no follow-up, and for years it was the only SRB recording available after they called it quits in 1980. While two collections of live recordings were released in the 1990s, City Slang's box set Sonic's Rendezvous Band is the first large-scale attempt to document the group's musical legacy, and while going from a one song 45 to a six-CD set may seem like overcompensatingy overkill, these recordings set the record straight about how startlingly good this band really was.

The first four discs of Sonic's Rendezvous Band are devoted to live concerts, with each featuring a different show; while the first two discs document a talented band that displayed flashes of brilliance while still finding its feet, discs three and four (recorded at shows in Detroit and Ann Arbor in 1978) are little short of stunning. By this point, Sonic's Rendezvous Band were astoundingly tight on-stage and the commitment and ferocity of this music is a wonder; just as importantly, Smith and Morgan were both writing great songs that took the high-amped attack of the MC5 and reworked it with a leaner, more streamlined approach that made the music all that more effective, generating a wall of guitar that enveloped the listener without pummeling as Asheton and Rasmussen laid down the backbeat with tireless accuracy. The final two discs compile stray live tracks, rehearsal tapes, and studio demos, and while they lack the coherence of the live concerts, they pull together some remarkable songs that aren't heard elsewhere, and the final two studio-recorded tracks, "Electrophonic Tonic" and "City Slang," demonstrate that SRB could have made an album that lived up to the thunder of their stage shows if someone had been willing to foot the bill. There's a bit of padding to be found on the six discs of Sonic's Rendezvous Band, which is the case with nearly all box sets of this size, but a close examination shows there's very little fat to be found -- the first two shows could have been trimmed to fit a single disc, and there are a few tracks on discs five and six that are not 100 percent essential, but the vast majority of what has been preserved here is high-energy rock & roll that will leave anyone with a memory of Detroit's glory days utterly breathless. Sonic's Rendezvous Band makes a convincing case that this was the greatest rock band to never make an album, and this set is a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable substitute for the killer studio project that never was.

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