? & THE MYSTERIANS
? & the Mysterians, a quintet of working-class Mexican-Americans from Saginaw, Michigan, were in many ways your typical one-hit wonder. But that one hit–the spellbinding garage-rock single “96 Tears”–has survived both above and below ground for more than 30 years, becoming a fixture on oldies radio and an article of faith for generations of garage fanatics. Recorded on two tracks in a converted rec room, the song combines the lo-fi, high-energy R & B of the Kinks and the Animals with the conjunto music of the band’s Tex-Mex roots: as vocalist ? delivers a stinging put-down of the woman who’s left him, organist “Little Frank” Rodriguez decorates the main two-chord vamp with jabbing eighth notes, a psychedelic drone, and a simple looping riff that slithers through the memory like an eel. “96 Tears” went to the top of the charts in October 1966, and while the Mysterians never came close to repeating that success, their long-out-of-print albums 96 Tears (1966) and Action (1967) prove that it wasn’t because they never waxed another great song. The jacked-up “I Need Somebody,” the jagged “8 Teen,” and the raving “Smokes” all cemented the marriage of rackety blues and stale-cheese organ later exploited by Elvis Costello & the Attractions, among others. The Mysterians broke up in 1968, and after that ? periodically hit the oldies circuit with various hired hands. Then in ’96 a 30th-anniversary reunion concert led to a CD of rerecorded material, which led to a spate of gigs with the more-or-less-original lineup, which led to the live double album Do You Feel It Baby? (Norton), recorded at New York’s Coney Island High in October 1997 and January 1998. The Mysterians’ show at the Empty Bottle last fall blew all expectations out of the water: four middle-aged muchachos laid down one tight, passionate groove after another while the trim, open-shirted ? worked the crowd like James Brown. If this show is anything like that one, it might give you a story to tell your grandchildren. Friday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. J.R. JONES
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by James Crump-RSP.