Wild Honey & Lenny Kaye’s Tribute To Nuggets Is A Eureka! Moment In Garage Rock History

Paul Kopf and Lenny Kaye. Photo by Elise Thompson for the LA Beat.

Wild Honey’s Tribute to Nuggets at the Alex Theater, hosted by its original compiler, Lenny Kaye of the Patti Smith Group, was a hot night in Glendale. With a set list made up entirely of “artyfacts from the first psychedelic era, 1965-68”, members of the Seeds, Love, Count 5, Electric Prunes, the Leaves, MC5, Chocolate Watchband, the Paley Brothers, Billy Vera and even the lead singer of the Archies shared the mic with GoGos, Bangles, Fleshtones, Plimsouls, Loons and the entire Three O’Clock, and the formidable force of the Wild Honey Orchestra. It was an old fashioned all-star revue, with Kaye as its chatty Ed Sullivan host keeping the “really big shoo, folks” moving along.

These Wild Honey shows, under the direction of Paul Rock, are known for their attention to detail and dedication to accurate re-creations of classic records, and the Nuggets repertoire proved to be a perfect object to receive their affections. The trippy arrangements of psychedelic gems like “My World Fell Down” – complete with  samples obtained from the actual 1960s sound effect records used on the original Sagittarius recording, and triggered by band member Jim Mills – and “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night” sounded incredible in the hands of these players. I know many of them as high level pros from the likes of Brian Wilson’s band, who have enough sense of fun, camaraderie and adventure to do this once in a while.

Every song is a winner, so the trick was matching the singer to the material, and this they did with a high rate of success. Cameron Dye slayed on Blues Project’s “No Time Like Like The Right Time”, while Paul Kopf proved why he has the gig as current singer for the Seeds on a relentless “Pushin’ Too Hard.” Modern Soul diva Evie Sands led a full choir for some of the night’s most impressive vocal harmonies on “An Invitation To Cry” and “My World Fell Down.”

Producer and vocalist Chris Price, who I first learned about while he was producing Emitt Rhodes’ comeback album a few years ago, gave a lovely reading of “Sugar and Spice” with Andrew Sandoval. Peter Zaremba had panache and showmanship to spare on sharp, crackling versions of “Dirty Water”, “Hey Little Girl” and “Talk Talk”. The duo of Tara Austin with Wild Honey’s most impressive “ringer” lead guitarist Rob Laufer, on “Tobacco Road” was one of the most energetically unhinged moments of the set, topped for raw power only by Wayne Kramer of the MC5’s burning take on “Baby Please Don’t Go,” joined by Mike Peters of the Alarm. In the name of authenticity, percussionist Nelson Bragg even learned to play the electric jug for “You’re Gonna Miss Me” by Carla Olson with Kathy Valentine.

But the most emotional moments of the show came from seeing the original artists from that original psychedelic era take the stage, and kill it. Kenn Ellner of the Count Five, James Lowe of Electric Prunes and David Aguilar of the Chocolate Watchband sang their signature numbers and commanded the stage like no time had passed since their heyday. Love’s Johnny Echols came out with Dramarama singer John Easdale for a truly heavy “7 and 7 Is”. Billy Vera’s passionate version of “Don’t Look Back,” a tune he wrote that was covered by Barry & The Remains, was an early high point. The fellows from the Leaves were having a bit of a challenge pushing out “Hey Joe” full strength at its original tempo, but when they hit their stride, it was thrilling – a garage rock moment in time recaptured. Ron Dante, voice of the Archies and a music biz bigshot, did a version of “Romeo And Juliet” that would have drawn squeals in 1965. The Paley Brothers appeared onstage for the first time in forty-five years for “Little Bit Of Soul”.

As expected, our friendly host Lenny stepped out of the Ed Sullivan role and took the mic for a couple of numbers. We got to hear his own recorded debut from 1967, “Crazy Like a Fox”, a rousing romp through the Premiers’ “Farmer John” with Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck joining him, sharing the mic with Paul Kopf on “Pushin’ Too Hard”, and leading the final everyone-on-stage finale of “Gloria”. On the latter he sounded like he might just forget where he was and start singing Patti Smith’s alternate lyrics instead of the ones on the Them record. But except for a possible errant line or two slipping out, he kept it authentic, surely true to the spirit. The whole night had a nice authentic ring to it, even if not everyone involved was from the sixties, the quality and extensive detail of the performance was authentic to how great, and how beloved, the original records are.

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