Sonic’s Rendezvous Band – “Sonic’s Rendezvous Band” (2006)

May 26, 2010 at 8:50 am (David Fricke, Music, Reviews & Articles)

David Fricke wrote this review for the Nov. 2, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone about this quasi-bootleg 6-CD box set from Detroit’s nearly-forgotten, high-octane rock ‘n’ roll titans, Sonic’s Rendezvous Band… 

MC5 guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith’s holy rank in the Detroit Church of High Energy Rock is sealed forever by the three albums he made with the 5, between 1969 and 1971, and one song, “City Slang,” that appeared in 1978 on both sides of the only single by his Seventies group, Sonic’s Rendezvous Band. SRB have long been a footnote instead of a chapter in the MC5 story. In the Seventies, while the 5 became legend and Bob Seger and Ted Nugent took Michigan rock to arena-ville, SRB – Smith, ex-Rationals singer-guitarist Scott Morgan, former Stooges drummer Scott Asheton and bassist Gary Rasmussen of the Up – played bars and high schools, opening local gigs for the Ramones and Smith’s future wife, Patti Smith. “City Slang” – 5:15 of assault guitars, railroad drumming and Smith’s determined rebel-call – has all you need to know why SRB were masters of their domain. But it was never enough.

The import box Sonic’s Rendezvous Band (Easy Action) corrects that with a vengeance: six CDs of live, demo and rehearsal tapes – most previously unavailable, even as bootlegs – plus the studio versions of “City Slang” and its intended B-side, Morgan’s “Electrophonic Tonic.” Two concert discs from 1975 and ‘76 (the first with original bassist W.R. Cooke) are rough in sound but show off the manic-white-Motown streak that Morgan, in particular, brought to SRB. The live CDs from ’78 – one from that Ramones date, the other a soundboard tape first released a few years ago on the Mack Aborn label – have SRB tearing with fine-tuned tension through songs from the greatest debut album never made: Smith’s “Sweet Nothin’” and “Do It Again,” Morgan’s “Asteroid B-612” and “Dangerous.” Discs Five and Six are of mixed fidelity and origin (the deluxe booklet lacks specific track annotation, although it has a detailed account of SRB’s history and breakup). But a highlight is the sixteen-minute “American Boy,” on which Smith plays a long, heated-raga solo on saxophone, evoking the MC5’s earlier holidays in the music of Sun Ra and Pharoah Sanders.

Sonic’s Rendezvous Bandcomes with its own controversy. On his web site, SRB road manager Freddie Brooks, who runs Mack Aborn, claims the box is a bootleg. Robert Matheu, the set’s executive producer, says in a Web interview that the surviving members were all involved and that he spoke with Smith’s son Jackson. (Fred died in 1994.) A credit line declares, “All tracks licensed exclusively from Sonic’s Rendezvous Band.” I’m not taking sides. I just want as much of the best of this band as I can get, in good faith and quality. Right now, this is what I have. And I am playing it. Loud.

David Fricke

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