Guantanamo Baywatch / Juan Wauters Wise Hall, Vancouver BC, June 30

Guantanamo Baywatch / Juan Wauters Wise Hall, Vancouver BC, June 30
Photo: Sharon Steele
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Representing Queens by way of Uruguay, Captured Tracks singer-songwriter Juan Wauters dropped an uneven set at Wise Hall on this Canada Day eve. With big, incandescent light bulbs sitting next to the drink on his left and behind a sheet that had his name and the title of his recently released Who Me? album on it, which were feverishly strobed by a hairy dude crouched at the back of the stage, Wauters hammed it up solo for a couple tracks. He rocked power stances with his acoustic guitar, dropping in the odd pirouette and kick for flavour.
 
Wauters was joined by a second acoustic guitar and congas for most of his set, but those guys didn't add a whole lot of excitement that Juan wasn't already providing, as he went deep into a classic rock character on guitar and shouted an enthusiastic "okay!" between songs. For his finale, he sent his bandmates away, and stood at a keyboard, playing it with one hand while holding the mic with the other, which could have been a lighters-in-the-air moment, but came off rather juvenile instead. Everything was pretty rough around the edges, given his fluttering extended vocal notes, accidentally unplugging his guitar during the first track, and flubbing a chord during final song, but he was endearing, and there's surprising depth in his freak-folk songwriting, like an outsider José González.
 
Jamming over Men At Work's biggest hit between bands, Portland surf-scuzz quartet Guantanamo Baywatch brought the energy up with their seemingly off-the-cuff headlining set. Their first time playing in Vancouver wasn't the smoothest experience either. It was a modest crowd, decent for such a weird bill on a weekday, but they were fairly chatty and distracted. When lead guitar/singer Jason Powell noted that they were playing songs from their recently released third album and Suicide Squeeze debut, Darling... It's Too Late, he received what he called the worst-ever response, which was bupkis. In the crowd's defence, Powell's vocals were mostly incomprehensible, whether singing or mumbling his banter, so it's entirely possible that they simply missed that cue for applause.
 
That being said, despite his incoherency, Powell's vocals hit the spot, a gnarled yet tuneful solidifier among their thoroughly impressive lo-fi, reverb-drenched, garage-punk surf blasts. Guantanamo Baywatch may give off a kind of half-ass vibe in light of their crudely humorous name, the cover art to 2012's Chest Crawl, and the cheap production values of their early work, but they definitely use their full asses. They were way better live than they had any right to be. Powell shredded lead guitar like a bastard, Chevelle Wiseman was swinging on bass, and drummer Chris Scott, appropriately dressed in a floral print shirt, had a big grin as he crushed his kit, exchanging silly faces with JP and Chev, while a touring second guitarist filled in the sonic textures.
 
They dropped instrumental jams as on point as anything the Ventures or Dick Dale ever did, dropping in the riff from Duane Eddy's "Rebel Rouser" between songs, and dishing out a cover of Paul Anka's "Diana" that was even more ramped up than the version on Chest Crawl. They know their history, and they're building off of it in a fashion just as, if not more profound than, the Ghastly Ones and Man or Astroman, but they do it with ease.
 
When there was a false start for "Sad Over You," Powell playfully mocked Scott's late intro. Before "Diana," Wiseman got Powell to put on a baseball cap held up by a guy in the front row, possibly to try to keep his curtain of matted locks out of his eyes, but he lost it as soon as they started playing. It didn't even seem like the band had a set list, instead negotiating their performance as it happened, considering Powell started saying that they only had a couple more songs less than half of the way through their 40-minute set. They were in the moment, and by the end of their set, a well-deserved mosh had formed. The crowd may have missed their first opportunity to cheer, but they made up for it.