LOADED Presents Guantanamo Baywatch, 23rd September
Tonight, the Foundry host Portland’s legendary surf aficionados, Guantanamo Baywatch, as they begin their first show of another Aussie tour. I’m keen to head up the Foundry’s stairs and have a beer but the security guard at the door has other plans for me. I’m pissed off that I’m late, but he wants to have a bit of fun with me before letting me in. After forcing my friends to throw a paper ball at him five metres away, I finally make my way into the venue.
Unfortunately, I’ve missed openers Concrete Surfers but the word at the bar is that they put on a sweet set mixing elements of punk and surf rock. I’ve walked into Pop Cult’s set; their catchy guitar hooks fill the air. I caught the Sunshine Coast boys at the last LOADED, and something about this set seems better. Maybe it’s because I’m not 4 schooners down yet but their single Feels Right sounds as good as ever. A thick rock sound punctures through the crowd and I can’t help but think of bands such as INXS with a good dose of Britpop on the side. Their new single Sunday Mourning emphasises this further with a memorable chorus line and melodic hooks that has the crowd swaying from side to side. I’ll admit, it’s taken me a while to warm to Pop Cult but I feel like this set has been their strongest I’ve seen yet.
I move to the back of the room and order myself another pick-me-up, still humming the catchy choruses Pop Cult left us with. Through the scatter of the crowd I can see the headliners set up their gear on stage. Dressed in denim jackets, the band will soon want to trade that for a singlet and shorts once their juicy surf rock begins.
The crowd reforms at the stage as the quick roll of the drum beckons the audience. Thoughts of surf and barrelling waves appear instantly as the drum roll continues, the two guitars feeding off one another with alternating chords. Moving into the instrumental verse, the bass bobs along, lead guitarist Jason Powell solos up and down the neck of his guitar. The surf twang continues with the odd whammy held on notes as the solos move up and down, see-sawing as if the solo is riding a wave. The band transition from their instrumental tracks to more 60s tinged pop songs; Powell’s distorted vocals add a crackle and pop that you’d find on an old surf vinyl. The tempo changes from song to song, Guantanamo Baywatch mellow us down with a swing-like track, and perk us right back up with fast riffed, solo ridden goldies. The addition of a second guitar thickens the band’s sound allowing the guitar riffs to stand on their own when no vocals are present.
The air is thicker now as the crowd swing and shake; the band have thrown off their jackets. I look to the back of the stage where drummer Chris Scott is hammering down on his cymbals and snare combo, the smile on his face is so big I’m sure that the bartenders can see it. The swing vibe to the music is littered with staccato solo notes that slide up and down the fret board – Scott’s drumming holds the band together like some good old fashioned surf wax.
As the band move back on stage for their encore, I can’t help but appreciate Guantanamo Baywatch’s retooling of a classic sound. Not only do they add their own flare to surf rock, but their enthusiasm live adds another level to their sound. For a moment I could have thought I was twisting in a 1960s surf-shack to some reverb ridden surfer rock. Either that, or in the opening credits to a Tarantino film.