Total Trash Brings Out the Ghosts

In its fifth year, Total Trash Fest continues to honor veteran garage rock bands.


Total Trash’s annual Halloween show — in which local garage/punk bands dress up and perform covers — started five years ago, but its roots date back much further. Founder Marc Ribak said that Total Trash Halloween began as a tribute to veteran punk band The Cramps, who played a special Halloween show in San Francisco almost every year since the mid-Eighties, until lead singer Lux Interior died in 2009. That same year, Nobunny covered The Cramps at the inaugural Total Trash Halloween show and a new tradition was born.

Total Trash has since evolved into a music festival. In the spirit of resurrecting old sounds, festival organizers tapped garage-rock legends The Sonics to headline two shows — on November 1 at The New Parish and November 2 at The Rickshaw Stop. It will be the first time the Pacific Northwest band has ever played the Bay Area. The rabbit-masked mutant rocker Nobunny will return for this year’s Halloween show on October 31 at The Stork Club, along with a lot of familiar Total Trash bands, including Oakland’s Shannon and The Clams. Total Trash Fest will close on November 3 at The Stork Club with up-and-coming punk bands, including Los Angeles’ Pangea and Oakland’s Meat Market.

Before Iggy and The Stooges and MC5, The Sonics were one of the earliest punk bands — though it would take decades for most to recognize it. The band was formed in 1960 in Tacoma, Washington, by guitarist Larry Parypa, who was then a teenager. The Sonics quickly became part of the Pacific Northwest garage-rock scene that included Tacoma band The Wailers and Portland’s The Kingsmen, all of which played and recorded a mix of originals and covers. But unlike their contemporaries, Ribak explained, The Sonics were considered bizarre for the early Sixties, both for their raw recording technique and occult themes in their original material. The band’s 1964 single “The Witch” was hugely popular among local kids, but never received radio play, and the band’s debut album, Here Are the Sonics, suffered a similar fate.

“They never had a ‘Louie Louie’ [The Kingsmen’s hit Richard Berry cover],” Ribak said. “But The Sonics’ original numbers were so standout. Half the record or more are original songs, and they’re way better than the covers. Maybe they were slightly ahead of their time or too raw for the day.”

The Sonics only recorded two more albums before breaking up around 1968. Ribak said few remembered the band until it was included on a compilation series called Back from the Grave, which was released by Crypt Records from 1983 to 1992. By the Aughts, artists like The White Stripes and The Hives were citing The Sonics as a major influence. The Black Keys covered The Sonics’ version of “Have Love, Will Travel” on their 2003 album Thickfreakness, and the original was licensed by Land Rover in 2004 for a TV commercial. That same song has 1,991,288 views on a YouTube video that was uploaded in 2007.

“The Sonics became the most popular out of any of the bands that hadn’t been national acts at the time,” Ribak said. “In fact, they’ve surpassed a lot of the Sixties acts that were actually popular at the time.”

The Sonics have reunited for one-off gigs since 2007 and the current lineup boasts three original members: Parypa, singer Gerry Roslie, and saxophonist Rob Lind. Recent gigs have included the band’s standard mix of originals and classic garage-rock covers. Both of the Sonics’ Total Trash shows will include veteran opening acts: On Friday, they’ll be joined by San Francisco surf-rock band The Phantom Surfers and San Jose-by-way-of-Texas rockabilly artist The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, who counts David Bowie as one of his longtime fans (he borrowed the “stardust” for his “Ziggy Stardust” persona); and on Saturday, Flamin’ Groovies founding member Roy Loney, who has maintained a solo career since leaving the San Francisco band in the early Seventies, will open the show.

Keeping with tradition, Total Trash’s Halloween show will be an evening entirely devoted to covers: Nobunny will morph into No Diddley for his tribute to rock pioneer Bo Diddley; Shannon and The Clams will tackle a far more obscure band, Los Saicos, a Peruvian garage-rock act that released a handful of singles in the Sixties; Oakland-based Pookie & The Poodlez will play songs by seminal punk band The Germs; Eureka band The Monster Women will split its set between The Go-Go’s and Blondie; and Oakland’s Yogurt Brain will cover songs off the first two Weezer albums.

Ribak said there will be a costume contest, so be sure to dress up, and to expect some craziness. At 2011’s Halloween show at Brick and Mortar Music Hall, Ribak joined the Zulus for their cover set of The Stooges, but he said his impression of Iggy Pop was too believable for one very drunk fan: “I wore these jeans with holes in the crotch area and this girl kept jumping on stage trying to grab my balls. I had to do stage dives to get away from her.”