Five years and four albums into its professional career, Georgia band Guadalcanal Diary appeared frozen at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Monday in its interminable set of cynical, uninspired anthems.
Though bassist Rhett Crowe and drummer John Poe hit some tight, if overbusy, grooves, the overall band sound was undefined, generating much more volume than power. And there was no getting around singer Murray Attaway’s monochromatic emotional input, which rose only to expressing a hip, detached angst on most songs.
While the strongest melody of the set was arguably Attaway’s smirking cover of Kyu Sakamoto’s ‘60s fluke hit “Sukiyaki,” the Guadalcanals did have some well-crafted songs, particularly those from the current “Flip-Flop” album. But when craft isn’t matched by passion, why bother calling it rock?
Although opener Treat Her Right may not yet be up to anything worth trading for the “hey, hey, hey!” refrain in Texas shouter Roy Head’s 1965 burner from which it took its name, the band proved a minor delight Monday. With a musical command ranging from the Chicago blues to the not-unrelated strains of vintage Captain Beefheart, the Boston-based quartet dug a rocking, sinuous--if derivative--groove into each of its 12 songs.
On stage, the band sounded every bit as potent as it did with John Mellencamp producer Don Gehman helming its current “Tied to the Tracks” album, making good use of a unique instrumentation of nonstop harmonica, two guitars and a “cocktail drum” (essentially an all-purpose tom-tom designed for lounge use in the ‘50s), creating a varied batch of beguiling riffs and moods.
The mixed-bag bill repeats tonight at the Palace.