Most bands of a certain vintage find themselves introduced with a litany of superlatives about their past accomplishments — and the Pretty Things, at this rare Gotham perf, proved no exception. But rather than focus on the band’s chart successes, their compere chose to proudly tick off a portion of the Pretties’ collective rap sheet — 71 arrests in all — as well as a mention of the countries in which the members are still banned.
It was a fitting preamble for a set that proved, nearly four decades on, that the Pretty Things can still, on any given night, be the world’s most dangerous band.
The band crafted a set that roughly followed the arc of its recorded career, kicking things off with snotty, distorted versions of “Roadrunner” and “Midnight to Six Man,” both of which gave singer Phil May ample room to growl and howl. Keyboardist John Povey belied his nonplussed, elegant looks by punctuating that salvo with a passel of raging harmonica solos.
Given the pro-drug proselytizing they engaged in long before the hippie era dawned — represented by the 1965 oddity “L.S.D.” — the sextet’s affinity for feral psychedelia was no surprise. This perf was rife with disturbing, off-kilter versions of songs that eschewed Summer of Love bliss in favor of the darker side of lysergia.
Chief among those were a brace of tunes from “S.F. Sorrow,” a rock opera that presaged both “Tommy” and “Sgt. Pepper.” An extended “S.F. Sorrow Is Born” let Dick Taylor (who left the Rolling Stones in favor of the Pretties, citing the former band’s “sanitized” image) unspool a tremendous guitar solo, while a hushed take on “Loneliest Person” was both bleak and beautiful.
Band manager Mark St. John manned the drums, filling in for Skip Allen, who was forced to skip the trip due to illness. His less-trained bashing made for a bottom end that, while less precise (on the elegant, ghostly “Cry for a Midnight Shadow”), proved totally in keeping with the band’s rough-and-tumble image.
Mid-billed Sons of Hercules cranked out a spirited set that struck a winning note, even if it had more in common with ’70s punk — the Stones-via-Stooges brand propagated by the Dead Boys and Saints — than the garage variety.
Reunion of one-time local faves the Headless Horsemen was likewise well received.