They came to see John Squire. But not necessarily the Seahorses.
"I'm here to see Squire..." was the common refrain at Monday night's
Seahorses/Mansun show at Washington, D.C.'s Black Cat. More out of
reverence to his short-lived mythic past than appreciation of his present musical
incarnation, the Seahorses' and former Stone Roses' axeman captured the attention of the mid-size crowd that came to pay their respects to the guitar-great.
Unfortunately, the flashes of virtuoso brilliance that few had seen on American shores when Squire toured with the Stone Roses were sadly lacking in the night's uninspired performance. Playing most of the tracks off the Seahorses' debut album, Do It Yourself, note-for-note, the show failed to showcase Squire's blues-rock style and did little to recapture the aura of his former band in its Manchester heyday.
Current British pop-darlings Mansun opened the venue with a 45-minute set
of guitar rock drenched in feedback and youthful male testosterone.
After suffering through a series of sound problems, the boys got on track in time for a three-song finale that showcased their current radio-hit, "Wide Open Space." With a sound that combines elements of Suede and Faith No More, Mansun struck an earnest chord with the audience.
That was more than the Seahorses could manage. Despite frontman Chris Helme's half-hearted attempts to steal the spotlight, the audience's attention was focused on Squire the entire evening, perhaps in anticipation of some sort of quasi-religious experience that never materialized. The overwhelming adoration did little to garner the interest of Squire, who spent most of the time pacing the stage, staring intently at his guitar from beyond his shaggy bangs -- devoid of any contact with the audience. For all of Squire's noted skill, impressive solos were glaringly absent, all but for the night's best-received "Love is the Law."
Bassist Stuart Fletcher and drummer Andy Watts, while serving as an amiable rhythm section, did little to help lift the spirits of Squire's now disappointed fans, instead remaining among the shadows throughout the performance.
Even Helme's shouting "Come On!" at the respectfully quiet audience in an
attempt to generate something resembling excitement couldn't rustle up any energy. The singer had apparently failed to realize the difficulty in rocking out to the band's mid-tempo '70s-era ditties. The low point of the evening came when a desperate Helme, apparently trying to emulate the energy and whimsy of Blur frontman Damon Albarn, threw a bottle of water on the mildly-enthused crowd. Instead of rousing the weary, most just stepped aside to avoid being doused.
As the concert came to a close, one couldn't help but conclude
that the first Stone Roses album, which is quickly approaching a decade
in age, is more relevant to today's music scene than the Seahorses'
current offering. By happenstance or sheer brilliance, the Stone Roses
set the stage for British rock in the late 1990s with their blend of pop,
psychedelia, religious imagery and dance music.
In contrast, the Seahorses' straight-ahead '70s sound leaves little to the imagination -- the feet, or the ears, for that matter -- as illustrated by their lackluster performance.
The patient audience refrained from requesting Stone Roses
tracks from Squire's new foursome, perhaps out of respect for their guitar hero. Then again, after considering what the Seahorses had to offer, many probably just wanted their fond memories of Manchester's seminal act to remain unscathed and intact.
Whether they were successful remains unclear. But at least they got to see their hero.