• courtesy of Devious Planet
  • The Standells (circa 2014)

Few bands are more synonymous with the sound of garage rock than the Standells, whose hit “Dirty Water” about the Charles River is not only a Boston rock anthem (“I love that dirty water / Boston you’re my home”), but also one of the most identifiable and durable gems from the original Nuggets compilation. Apparently various reconstituted versions of the band have been performing live since the mid-80s—the quartet’s original run began in 1962 and petered out unceremoniously in 1972—but the current lineup is in the midst of a U.S. tour that brings them to Chicago on Tuesday for a show at Mayne Stage. I missed the recent local date by Seattle’s proto-punk legends the Sonics at Double Door, but all reports gave it an exuberant thumbs up. I’m much more skeptical that such will be the case for the Standells, who will be recording Tuesday’s show for an upcoming live album.

Yesterday I dug out a Standells anthology from my collection, and the band’s best material sounds better than I remember. Aside from the ubiquitous “Dirty Water,” which opens with one of the most familiar bluesy guitar licks in rock history, the band cut a bunch of good stuff, from the minor hit “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White,” a kind of accidental poseur anthem, and the swirling, fuzzy love-as-drug gem “Medication.” Still, the Standells were kind of pretenders. People think of them as a Boston band because of “Dirty Water,” but they were an L.A. band through and through, with songwriter Ed Cobb, who wrote many of their best tunes, serving as Svengali/producer. In fact, only a couple of songs on The Very Best of the Standells (Hip-O) was penned by a members of the band—”Mr. Nobody,” by singer and keyboardist Larry Tamblyn, and “Riot on Sunset Strip” was coauthored by John Fleck, who had joined the Standells after playing in Love. The covered a bunch of garage rock gems by contemporaries, from Love’s take on Burt Bacharach’s “Little Red Book” to “Hey Joe.”

I still have strong memories from childhood reruns of The Munsters episode when the band played themselves and autographed a photo of themselves for Herman Munster, calling him a “real gone gasser.” Last year the band finally returned to the studio for a new album called Bump (Global), which very much sounds like the product of a mediocre 60s cover band. The best songs are covers (“Pushing Too Hard” by the Seeds and “7 and 7 is” by Love) and the originals explain why so few of them made it into the band’s repertoire five decades ago. Of course, there’s the sad fact that 71 year-old Tamblyn is singing a song called “She’s Just 18,” but more absurd is the band’s ham-fisted attempt to stoke their Beantown standing on “Boston’s Badass,” a generic hard rock song with dated flanged-out guitars, fake horns, and a nonhook featuring the immortal line, “Boston’s badass, baby.” Check it out for yourself below. Tomorrow’s set will surely focus on the band’s vintage material, but if the execution is anything like it is here, I don’t know if it will matter too much.

Today’s playlist:

Pepper Adams, Encounter! (OJC/Prestige)
Jim Ford, The Sounds of Our Time (Bear Family)
Sérgio Ricardo, Arrebentação (Discobertas)
Art Farmer & Hal McKusick Quintet, Complete Studio Recordings (Lonehill)
Gilad Hekselman, Split Life (Smalls)