Pushing Kinda Sorta Hard

If singer Sky Saxon had died young, the Seeds would have been the Doors. And if Jim Morrison had lived way too long, the Doors would be the Seeds: cool, but not cooled-off; mercifully unknown to denizens of frat houses and yuppie bars; and churning along in a perpetually skewed counterorbit just above, say, Eric Burdon and the New Animals and just below Arthur Lee and the Forever Changes Symphony Orchestra. Joey Ramone would've talked about how much the Doors' first record changed his life, and all kinds of plastic garage bands trolling for cred would trot out woozy covers of “Light My Fire,” and X would have covered “Excuse, Excuse” (produced by Seeds keyboardist Daryl Hooper), and the Seeds 2000 would support the Sex Pistols in San Diego. Meanwhile—as lambs lay down with lions—the Standells would have been the Monkees, the Monkees would have been the Beach Boys, the Beach Boys would have been Pink Floyd, and Syd Barrett would have been Elton John. And Kim Fowley wouldn't have changed a bit. It would be a scary world.

Instead, Saxon not only lives but also thrives inside a myth of his own, one of the last exalted regents left from the '60s acid-rock trip: though the Seeds never quite pulled off the ambitious pop experimentation of Love and haven't completely convincingly hoisted themselves into the proto-punk bandwagon (an argument that only works if you squint hard at the first two records), ex-Mormon Saxon still slotted his band into sleazy Sunset Strip history, thanks to sheer indecipherable personality and a gleaming Vox guitar sound. In the early '60s, Saxon left Salt Lake City as Richard “Little Richie” Marsh, taking a few limp swipes at teen-idoldom with songs such as “Crying Inside My Heart” and “Darling I Swear That It's True” before knocking the Seeds together in 1965. Their first single, “Can't Seem to Make You Mine,” might still be their best—that first guitar chord cuts crystal—but “Pushin' Too Hard,” scribbled in the front seat of a car, was the classic. So classic, in fact, they wrote it over and over: “No Escape,” “Evil Hoodoo,” “You Can't Be Trusted”—and that's just the first album. But it's okay: Saxon's voice was pimply puberty incarnate, a boiling, oily mess of garage-y sentiment and sound, and if the early Seeds never pushed too hard beyond sex, drugs, alienation, and two-chord back-and-forth, that still about soaks up everything about cranky teenagerhood in the mid-'60s except the curfew.

And even better is just how loopy they got. A Spoonful of Seedy Blues was so poorly received when it came out in 1967 that people thought it must have been one of those contractual suicide attempts, but 1968's live follow-up was complete redemption. Not only did the Seeds stick to all the hits, but—like the 13th Floor Elevators' live record—it was all a sham. Their current press release—possibly sourced from the brain of Sky Saxon himself—claims Raw and Alive was recorded at Merlin's Music Box in OC; in 2001, drummer Rick Andridge told writer Alan Robinson that no, they just set up in some Hollywood studio and dubbed in the screaming girls in post-production. Somehow, that makes it even better: one of the rawest bands of the '60s firing all their charisma and sex appeal point-blank into a wall of sound-dampening acoustic foam. And, you know, that was kind of their career: mumbles Saxon as they get ready for “Pushin' Too Hard,” “This next song we'd like to do I'd like to dedicate to society . . . 'cuz they still haven't listened.” (Engineer, can you turn the shriek track up a bit? Thanks!)

So that was 1968. They broke up in 1970, and then Saxon (who put out dozens of solo releases) crept back into the spotlight, first by simply clambering onstage to sing with local garage bands and eventually by putting a Seeds back together. The Seeds that play now—more correctly, Sky Saxon and the Seeds—is, of course, not so spiritually removed from the Doors of the 21st Century. Saxon's the only actual Seed left, but by all accounts, he's so intensely, obliviously into it that he's a show all his own. He's not pushing too hard, but he's still pushing, and unlike the Doors, Saxon is so unreconstructedly, unshavenly bizarre you can trust the songs still make sense for him. All Jim Morrison is now is a marker in a Paris cemetery with lipstick smeared all over it; if Saxon had died young, the Seeds would have been the Doors, and they would have been boring.

Sky Saxon and the Seeds perform with the Fuzztones, the Warts, and Davey Allen and the Arrows at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930. Sun., 8 p.m. $17.50. All ages.

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