Guantanamo Baywatch @ The Shacklewell Arms, London 10.12.2015


© Carla Salvatore

It’s that time of the year when it’s cold, rainy and grey, and just generally snooze-inducing. When Heatwave offered the team to review Guantanamo Baywatch, I’ll embarrassingly admit that I debated between going or watching the show The Best of Big Rich Texas for far too long… Thankfully, I opted to get off my couch, and head to Shacklewell Arms to see the band’s first ever London show. I can’t say that I had heard much about them, only that they were “surfy” and “dancy,” and “pretty West Coast.” In my mind, I was going to see yet another Jacuzzi Boys-FIDLAR band that California has been spewing out ever since late 2012. And yes, they were all of those things, but are also super fun and original. They had so many throwbacks to Beach Boys and Link Wray that they towered above all those aforementioned bands. Despite their name, they are not a band that relies on gimmicks, or the whole “we smoke weed and party for daaayyyyzzzz” thing– they just rely on talent, and an amazing knack for writing a really catchy three-minute pop song and jangly solo.

I am a sucker for style, and when singer Jason Powell jumped on stage with worn-out Vans, a baseball cap and a customised Friday the 13th vest, I decided I already liked them (I will never apologise for being shallow). Then bassist Chevelle Wiseman joined him wearing the most wrecked pair of tights and cut-off shorts I’ve ever seen and I took my place at the front of the crowd, prepared to sway and nod for the next hour or so. It was just kind of up from there. The Portland quartet had the crowd whooping and dancing the entire time. While that isn’t hard when everyone is drunk at a weekend, for a Thursday night when your Mom is present (which Powell claimed, but did not prove), I think that is quite an achievement. There were moments when it could have been early Brian Wilson on stage, if it weren’t for Powell’s surf-rock Hunx-esque vocals. There were also times when they brought super dark Dirty Beaches to mind– a little bit tender in amongst all the guitar and noise (and dancing).

When the band burst into “Diana” mid-set, I kicked myself for not wearing my baseball jacket in-keeping with the Grease theme– if you want songs to shake your hair to, then Guantanamo Baywatch have them. Scales, solos and pumping bass– every song, even the slow ones, like “Too Late.” The show was childish and fun, and full of energy. I could write more, but if you are reading this review having not been there, then it’s a real shame. It’s not too often that you can go to a gig like this in London and the crowd isn’t being dickheads or dismissive of those around them, but instead everyone was just having a good time. The band were upbeat and excited to be there, and it was clear that they really enjoy what they do which made it so easy for the crowd to enjoy themselves– even if they had spent the other part of the day being super lazy and boring.

If it has taken the band this long to get to London, then we will just have to pray they don’t leave it too long until next time. And that maybe they play in a more appropriate season– not in the middle of winter.

By Frieda Strachan