I’ve wanted to see the Flamin’ Groovies for years, and last night (May 9), a reunited version of the terrific ’70s band — which was responsible for the all-time classic power pop song “Shake Some Action” and many other excellent recordings — finally made it to Chicago. It was great to hear these guys (1970s Groovies members Cyril Jordan, Chris Wilson and George Alexander, plus a new drummer, Victor Penalosa) playing some of those old songs I thought I’d never hear in concert… And yet, somehow the show ended on a sour note with a bad vibe in the room. I don’t think the band was largely to blame.
I suspect the problems started with the choice of venue, the House of Blues, which was simply too big of a room for the Flamin’ Groovies to fill with their undeservedly small cult following. By the day of the concert, tickets were practically being given away. The opening acts were a couple of fun Chicago bands, the Peekaboos and the Lemons, who drew a bunch of their young fans to the dance floor. This all had the makings of a delightful young-meets-old sort of evening, even though some of the older folks probably didn’t know what to make of the Lemons’ goofy sing-song bubblegum pop ditties, which are rarely more than a minute long. (I thought they were great fun and pretty darn funny, too.)
And the show attracted at least a few people who seemed bent on making trouble. One guy somehow got backstage and dived off the stage into the crowd during the middle of the Flamin’ Groovies’ set. That wouldn’t be an unusual occurrence at a punk show, but at this concert, it was a surprise that seemed to annoy and throw off the Groovies. Then, a fight of some sort broke out in the crowd right in front of the stage, with security guards descending and eventually pulling out two guys. All of this proved very distracting — to me as an audience member and also, I suspect, to the band itself.
After playing “Shake Some Action” about 45 minutes into its set, the band rather abruptly left the stage. It seemed as if half the audience didn’t even notice the band was gone. There was no applause to speak of, other than a few scattered claps. A couple of minutes later, despite the absence of cheering, the Flamin’ Groovies returned to the stage, clearly following the standard concert script that calls for an encore. And at that moment, they played one of the best songs of the night, a hard-charging “Teenage Head.” And then they were gone, having played a mere 50 minutes.
A couple of friends tell me they’ve seen great shows by the Groovies recently at other places around the country. This clearly wasn’t one of their better nights, but it had some good moments. Those old Flamin’ Groovies songs from the 1970s — the band’s originals as well as its distinctive covers of tunes by Chuck Berry, Freddy Cannon and others — have stood the test of time. But what a strange show this turned out to be.