It's hard to imagine a more drastic transition than bassist Paul Simonon's: from the Clash, a band that mattered whatever it did, to Havana 3 A.M., a band that can't find a reason for being, no matter how hard it tries.
At the group's L.A. debut at the Roxy on Monday, the Englishman and his three band-mates played it intense and honest, but the only time the pompadoured outfit got the crowd churned up was on the encores--with Clash and Eddie Cochran songs.
Simonon, in his first venture since the Clash's 1985 demise, is a co-writer of Havana's material, but on stage he took a back seat to his collaborators: guitarist Gary Myrick (an almost-star from L.A.'s old new-wave scene) and singer Nigel Dixon, whose husky voice sounds enough like Joe Strummer to tickle punk memories, but not enough to demand comparisons.
The music is a blend without much of a point. Elaborated rockabilly and Caribbean rhythms, Myrick's busy, slashing, progressive pop-metal leads, reggae and calypso arrangements, spaghetti Western and surf overtones. Even when they combine their best elements, it never quite adds up. The fast tunes don't get much traction, and the mood pieces fail to blossom into full atmospheres.
The lyrics romanticize joy riding and other forms of youthful high-jinks with some real exuberance, and lament social problems (homelessness, pollution, hunger) with a heavy hand. On the recent debut album "Havana 3 A.M.," the group (which also plays tonight at Bogart's in Long Beach and Saturday at the Bacchanal in San Diego) sometimes gets all this airborne, but at the Roxy it was an earthbound, journeyman's slog.