It was on a Monday night in Stafford, in a room no bigger than a primary school hall that three bands came, saw and conquered.
Kicking proceedings off were new local outfit Super Lemon Days. The self-titled exponents of ‘Lemony Britpop’, opened with debut single ‘You’ll Never Be King’; a Swervedriver inspired charge down a motorway at midnight, churning out Chapterhouse chords with a chugging bass. After squeezing all they could from their synth and strings, the ‘Lemons’ moved onto second single ‘REM 247’:
The gradual build from reverb laden guitars and drum taps to a melting pot of face melting effects, dispelled all the nervousness this fairly new band had. Furthermore, the singer grew in confidence and gained a Jason Pierce-like passivity; his voice periodically escaping the shackles of the swirling melody, only to be drowned in sound once more. Over the course of their all too short set the band seemed to grow tighter; starting with simple stripped back licks, the songs soon became otherworldly anthems, with that lumbering bassline being the only thing tethering them to this side of stratosphere.
The second support, Table Scraps are more experienced. The Birmingham noise punk trio released their first full length LP back in 2015 and are currently working on a second. Kicking off with the high velocity ‘Electricity’, lead guitarist and singer Scott Abbott mixed echoing vocals with a guitar tone that screamed so much it wouldn’t look out of place in an 80s slasher movie. What’s more, as they rattled through tracks at the pace of a submachine gun it was clear that this group could play; imagine an early Band of Skulls record, sped up and played through a broken amp. What’s more, they clearly know how to write a hook; as shown on ‘Bad Feeling’. This is a track with a verse more slow burning than an energy efficient light bulb, and a snarling chorus with lyrics that will be ringing in your ears the next day – regardless of tinnitus.
The guitar sounded great, the bass was blistering and the vocals violent; but in the cases of all three bands it was the drums which were delightfully deafening and the tech guys at the Redrum must be commended. The drums opening Table Scraps’ ‘Dead Scene’ pays homage to Royal Blood’s ‘Out of the Black’, but Poppy Twist made it more royally bloody; they cut through the mix and through your chest to settle on your sternum and in that small upstairs room of the Redrum, you felt like a hammering heart in a box shaped room.
Table Scraps concluded their set with fun fan favourite ‘Motorcyle (Straight to Hell); a track reminiscent of Ty Segall during his ‘Horn the Unicorn’ days and which set the tone perfectly for Guantanamo Baywatch. Kicking things off with the psychotic instrumental ‘Conquistador’ they certainly didn’t seem like a band who had been partying until 6am in Glasgow that morning. That being said this is a band who’s primary concern when song writing is how drunk they can get before they are unable to play it. Speaking of their new record ‘Desert Center’, singer and lead guitarist Jason Powell told me:
“It’s probably the most concise one we’ve done. It’s the shortest one we’ve done (only nine songs), but to me it seems like the best. It seems like the other ones have slowly been getting to this spot and it’s like if you are going to see this band live, this is what they sound like.”
Sometimes a band come alive when they play live, and sometimes they sound better in the studio, but Guantanamo Baywatch’s LPs are live albums in a studio setting and come as close to capturing all their craziness in a controlled environment. That isn’t to say, however, that they’re not worth seeing . Fed off a diet of Red Bulls and Tequila, drummer Chris Scott lays solos left, right and centre while Chevelle Wiseman’s bass lines mix slap-back echo with a slap-in-your-face attitude.
Tracks such as fan favourite ‘Barbacoa’ are firmly rooted in the surf rock tradition, while ‘Neglect’ with its vocal harmonies and ‘spelt out’ lyrics harks back to a pre-‘Pet Sounds’ Beach Boys. But while the likes of Brian Wilson and co. sang ‘Surfin’ USA’ from the safety of the beach, Guantanamo Baywatch seem to sing and play while surfing (sometimes on top of the crowd); showing extreme technical ability inches from falling off, drowning or a vicious shark attack. Speaking about the label surf rock, which often accompanies the band, Jason said:
“I mean when we started out it was a surf rock band because those were the kind of songs I was into writing. […] Really early my influences were a lot of first and second wave surf rock; Man or Astroman, Los Straitjackets, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. I mean I love Surf Rock, but I also just like good songs –as long as it seems like fun, then we will do it!”
This pursuit of ‘fun’ has led to Jason and the gang branching out into different genres and it is this band, this album and this setlist’s secret weapon. Live, the spaghetti western soundtrack ‘the Scavenger’ grows into something which is good, bad and ugly all at once, while the doo wop infused ‘Video’ and ‘Darling It’s Too Late’ sound like Satan playing your grandma’s favourite records. Possibly the highlight of the night was the moment the band played ‘Don’t Blame Me’; a track which Jason describes as “ the Everly Brothers mixed with the Pixies”.
“It doesn’t really matter about the genre. You get these people who want to go and see one genre, but I think a lot of people are like ‘I wanna see some cool songs that I can remember later’ and I think that’s one thing a lot of bands are missing out on.”
Another thing bands are missing out on is seeing this group live. Concluding with a furious rendition of ‘Mr Rebel’, Guantanamo Baywatch not only proved their ability to play (especially on a Monday, midway through their tour) but their versatility in mixing their grounding in surf-rock with country, doo-wop and pop. This was a fun gig, where a good time was had by fans and bands alike. We saw three bands: all three proved why they were there, all three are going from strength to strength and all three will be seen again.
Guantanamo Baywatch are still on tour, their album ‘Desert Center’ is out now on Suicide Squeeze Records.