Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Tim Livingston and Ruby.
The sweltering heat marked the undeniable start of another summer – even if it was still only May. And Great White Caps rode the heat wave into town for a Thursday night show at the Hollow in Albany.
Imagine a cross between Los Straitjackets and the Neanderthals – but without the Mexican wrestling masks or the Flintstones’ faux furs. Instead, the four-piece Great White Caps were decked out in more traditional beachwear – cut-offs and such – as they took to the stage to pump out a night of what they like to call “beach rock,” a sizzling summertime hybrid of old-school surf ‘n’ garage rock.
And if some of the faces onstage looked familiar, well, your eyes weren’t deceiving you. There’s some personnel crossover with the excellent Talking Heads tribute band, Start Making Sense, including the David Byrne-like SMS frontman Jon Braun, who slipped behind the drum kit for GWC to provide the big bad beach beat under the moniker Johnny Utah.
But the focal point for the White Caps was lead guitarist-vocalist Montag the Magnificent, who led the band as they cranked out more or less vintage sounding surf instrumentals with titles like “Little Miss TNT,” “Sasquash,” “El Bravo,” “Morey Boogie” and the pummeling title track of their latest album, “Screech Beach,” dedicated, of course, to Dustin Diamond’s “Saved by the Bell” character. In keeping with the ’60s surf tradition, most of the instrumentals were short and sweet, and the band somehow managed to squeeze 11 complete songs into their first 30 minutes on stage.
Highlights of their instrumental repertoire included the ska-meets-reggae number “Buffalo Surfer” and the exotic “Bradley Beach,” which slowed down the tempo a bit with a Middle Eastern modal flavor that gave Montag a chance to stretch out beyond the quick blasts of uptempo whammy-bar workouts.
Interspersed amid the instrumentals, Montag stepped up to the microphone to growl through an occasional ’60s garage rock-derived vocal numbers including the reggae-tinged “Pacifico” (an ode to the band’s fave beer), “What a Way to Die” (another malt-beverage anthem), “Let’s Go” (the band’s upcoming new single) and the classic “Betty Lou’s Got a New Tattoo.”
Led by hyperactive frontman Tim Livingston, the Last Conspirators kicked off the evening with a blistering hour-long opening set that was highlighted by a big batch of songs from their upcoming third album, A Celebration of Fury, which takes a hard look at the decay of the American Dream.
Among the highlights of the new material were the anthemic “Radio Warfare” (doubling as the name of Livingston’s monthly radio show on WGXC 90.7FM), the primal stomp of “Desperate Skies” and especially “Last Ones Standing” (an unflinching look back at the failings of the punk rock revolution).
The band – drummer Al Kash, guitarist Terry Plunkett and bassist Nick Bisanz – powered through the set with a new-found, just-out-of-the-studio, laser-sharp focus and a heavier than usual attack that was most potent on the metalesque assault of the upcoming album’s title track. And Livingston – a frontman who has yet to find a stage that can contain him – took the attack directly to the people, stalking his way through the crowd during the dub-like spoken-word section of “Crash” and recklessly leaping onto a table to hang ten during “Surf Rocket.”
If this is how summer starts, I can’t wait to see how it ends. Or better still, maybe this will be the endless summer…