The Creation celebrates lasting strength of songs


September 20, 2002


Though most bands would probably prefer to collect their accolades (and some money) in the present day, the nice thing being ahead of your time is that the music can live on without the taint of nostalgia decades down the road.

The majority of the songs that English cult heroes the Creation played during a packed show at the Beat Kitchen on Wednesday, the second of a two-night stand, were more than 35 years old. But these psychedelic pop gems were as fresh, vibrant, and vital as if they were written yesterday.

Formed in 1966 from the remains of a mod combo called the Mark Four, and produced by Shel Talmy of Who and Kinks fame, the Creation recorded a series of brilliant singles that merged a primal, pounding rhythm, jaunty R&B-tinged vocal hooks, and the astounding, feedback-drenched solos of guitar wizard Eddie Phillips.

The band was revered in Britain (where it influenced everyone from Led Zeppelin to the Sex Pistols to Oasis), but bungled management blocked it from conquering America as part of the British Invasion. The Beat Kitchen shows were its first ever in Chicago. In one sense, they were decades late. But in terms of delivering a sound that still inspires the rock underground, they were right on time.

Summoning the Pop Art spirit of the psychedelic era, the group performed in front of two white bed sheets that singer Kim Gardner proceeded to decorate with spray paint over the course of the show. “Imagine 1966,” read one. “Biff Bang Pow,” declared the other, referring to the giddy, rollicking mod hit that opened the show.

Gardner had been the band’s bassist, but original singer Kenny Pickett died a few years ago, after the group’s first reunion in 1993. Though he was a little heavy on the Tom Jones-style lounge-singer shtick, Gardner was a passable ringer at the mike. Far better in their roles were younger recruits Tony Barber (the bassist with the Buzzcocks) and drummer Kevin Mann, who attacked the band’s rumbling rhythms with fiery enthusiasm.

But the show was really about celebrating two things: Phillips’ intense guitar work, and the enduring strength of the Creation’s songs.

The guitarist summoned wild gales of noise by striking his ax with a violin bow during the mind-altering mid-sections of the signature tunes “Making Time” and “How Does It Feel to Feel,” and he joined Barber in providing spot-on harmonies for the call-and-response choruses of buried treasures such as “Tom Tom,” “Nightmares,” “Painter Man,” and “Life Is Just Beginning,” an apt title for a pair of near-60-year-old rockers if ever there was one.

The group also unveiled two more-than-respectable new tunes, “Shock Horror” and “Red With Purple Flashes,” which it hopes to include on a new album. Part of the show’s success was no doubt due to the fact that this group of musicians wasn’t simply coming together to serve up dusty oldies. It is creating again, and moving forward in a challenging direction, much like reunited punk heroes Wire, who delivered a set of almost entirely new material at Metro on Saturday.

But there was also a justified pride and joy in timeless material that deserves a much wider audience. As inspiring as the music was Wednesday, it was just as much fun to watch the mile-wide grin on Phillips’ face as he delivered it.