‘Nuggets’ 50th Anniversary Concert Celebrates the Heyday of Garage-Rock: Review

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Lenny Kaye at the 50th Anniversary concert (Photo by Cary Baker, used with permission)

Lenny Kaye’s enthusiasm was palpable from the stage of Glendale’s Alex Theatre on Friday (May 19, 2023), where he was celebrating the 50th anniversary of Nuggets, the beloved and influential compilation album Kaye, then a writer for Rolling Stone and a clerk at Village Oldies Records in Greenwich Village, produced. “It’s all about great records…it’s all about great songs,” he crowed.

He was correct, of course, and the show, produced with Wild Honey, a collective of Los Angeles musicians, to benefit the Autism Healthcare Collaborative, made his point even clearer. The three-hour concert, featuring guests from Susanna Hoffs to original members of the Leaves (the original “Hey Joe”), the Seeds (“Pushin’ Too Hard”), the Count Five (“Psychotic Reaction”), Love (“7 and 7 Is”) and the Electric Prunes (“I Had Too Much to Dream [Last Night]”), made for a joyous evening.

Nuggets, subtitled “Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968” chronicled that short period between the Beatles’ debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, when untold numbers of teenagers went out, bought electric guitars and formed bands, rehearsed in their parents’ garages, and small, independent labels popped up to record and release their songs, and when, in the wake of Sgt. Pepper, and rock and roll turned progressive. It was a period of great creativity, but one that existed mostly under the radar, with only a few of the bands garnering national hits, and even fewer going on to longer careers.

The Nuggets album excavated that hidden history, collecting 27 of those records. While it was not initially a hit, the collection was still influential; it has been called the punk rock version of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. The early punk-rock bands saw the bands on Nuggets as kindred spirits and many of the first wave of bands that played CBGB (which included Kaye as a member of the Patti Smith Group) would cover songs from the album. A series of similar collections (some of dubious legality) followed—Pebbles, Back from the Grave and the deep dives into specific labels and scenes compiled by the Numero Group. Kaye also took the time to dedicate the show to then-Elektra Records owner Jac Holzman (who released the original album) and the late Gary Stewart, the Rhino executive who helped put together the later, expanded Nuggets albums. (It could be argued that, with its thoughtful choice of songs and smart, informed liner notes, Nuggets set the template for Rhino’s equally thoughtful and knowledgeable reissues.)

Kaye was an enthusiastic, genial host. Tall and still whippet-thin, wearing a properly psychedelic shirt, his grin seemingly pasted on his face, he introduced each song, giving a little history about the song, the original artist, and welcomed each guest onto the stage. Among the highlights were Cindy Lee Berryhill’s sly take on the Barbarians’ “Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?”; Billy Vera, in fine voice on “Don’t Look Back”; L.A.’s All Day Sucker, who bashed though ? and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears”; and Evie Sands’ tough, soulful take on “An Invitation to Cry,” an obscure song by the Magicians. Kenn Ellner, the lead singer of the Count Five, showed up in a black and red cape to perform “Psychotic Reaction.”

Susanna Hoffs at the 50th anniversary concert (Photo by Cary Baker, used with permission)

Susanna Hoffs was slyly seductive on “Sit Down, I Think I Love You” (the Buffalo Springfield song that was a minor hit for the Mojo Men) and underscored the heat and desire on the Strangeloves’ “I Want Candy.” Tom Kenny, the voice of Spongebob Squarepants, was an animated presence, adding the falsetto to the chorus of the Castaways’ “Liar, Liar,” and taking the spotlight for Third Rail’s “Run, Run, Run.”

The Fleshtones’ Peter Zaremba was an energetic, charismatic showman, ending his three-song mini-set (the Standells’ “Dirty Water,” with the Cars’ Elliot Easton bringing the Boston sound on lead guitar, the Syndicate of Sound’s “Little Girl” and the Music Machine’s “Talk Talk) by bounding off the stage and running through the orchestra. Kaye performed “Crazy Like a Fox,” a 1966 single he recorded as Link Cromwell, a “protest song” in the vein of Sonny Bono’s “Laugh at Me,” and the Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard” with Daryl Hooper, the Seeds’ original keyboardist, adding his piano solo. He was joined by the current Seeds lead vocalist and bassist, Paul Kopf and Alec Palao, respectively, with Morley “Cosmo Topper” Bartnoff on guitar.

Related: We talked to Lenny Kaye about Nuggets and more

Each of the acts was backed by the Wild Honey Orchestra, a community of Los Angeles musicians. Wild Honey shows are usually dedicated to a single band or album, but Nuggets increased the level of difficulty. While the music has been dismissed as bashed-out three-chord-pop tunes, the songs on Nuggets cover a broad range of styles, from the Beatles-esque rock of the Knickerbockers’ “Lies” (performed by Peter Case) to the proto-bubblegum of the Cryan’ Shames’ “Sugar and Spice” to the indefinable 13th Floor Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me” (delivered with grit and swagger by Carla Olson and the Go-Go’s’ Kathy Valentine).

Watch: Peter Case and the Wild Honey Orchestra perform the Knickerbockers’ “Lies”

The musicians were more than up to the task, recreating the baroque, Beach Boys-styled “My World Fell Down,” the pop shading of “Romeo and Juliet,” and the breakneck energy of Love’s “7 & 7 Is,” with original Love guitarist Johnny Echols. They could also bash away on the Premiers’ “Farmer John,” performed by Kaye with R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey.

Watch: Love’s Johnny Echols reprised the band’s explosive single “7 and 7 Is”

While they recreated many of the original arrangements, they weren’t slavish reproductions. Mike Peters and the MC5’s Wayne Kramer turned “Baby Please Don’t Go,” into a guitar showcase, and “Tobacco Road” was a guitar rave-up between Kaye, Valentine and Wild Honey’s musical director, Rob Laufer.

By the end of the show, as the entire company clambered onstage for a raucous “Gloria” (including a moment when Kaye seemed to be channeling Patti Smith), it was less like a tribute concert than a 50th-anniversary high school reunion. As you walked out of the Alex, the marquee read Kaye’s catchphrase about the album: “It’s a Nugget if you Dug It.” Friday night at the Alex, Kaye and Wild Honey tapped into the motherlode.

Watch the “Gloria” grand finale

Steven Mirkin

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  1. CosMorley
    #1 CosMorley 20 May, 2023, 19:07

    Sir, first off, I want to thank you so much for your insightful uplifting review of our incredible night. but I’d be amiss if I didn’t credit Founding Seeds Keyboardist Daryl Hooper of The Seeds For Perfectly Vibing & recreating His Iconic Pushing Too Hard Electric Piano Part. I was able to Play a simple organ pad along side, Peter Buck, Lenny Kaye Scott McCaughey & of course the legendary Mr. Hooper. That said, the Wild-honey foundation is about supporting the community and helping autistic nation and I’m on cloud 9 to play a small part in it = living the dream of also getting to play rhythm guitar alongside Johnny Echols on Arthur Lee’s £@v€ Lee seven and seven is, was a big part of an evening that I will never forget. in conclusion I wanted to give piano solo credit where credit is due! much appreciation. CosMorley B

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