Various Artists, Waikiki Surf Battle

An extraordinary document culled from an era when humans of an early and impressionable age really, really, really cared about music. This lp contains key performances from two years' worth ('63 & '64) of competitions held in a Hawai'ian bandshell. All the bands in question are practitioners of instrumental surf music, a genre that just might be the straight line connecting classical music theory and the endless ostinati of Tangerine Dream, as first drawn by iconoclast guitarists Dick Dale and Hank B. Marvin. (I interviewed the English guitarist Fred Frith in the pages of The Wire a few years back. Listening to The Shadows playing "Wonderful Land," Frith became very quiet. The record finished and he noted that "Without Hank B. Marvin, there would be no Syd Barrett." His voice, as he said this, took on a markedly reverential tone. I didn't have reason to doubt him; still, I thought about that for some time afterwards.)

18 bands comprised the 1963 show and 20 competed in the following year. An representative selection from each battle-of-the-bands made it onto this album; however, not all of the prize-winners are present. The Kona Casuals took 3rd place in 1964. Aren't you curious to hear what a group named The Kona Casuals sounded like, much less learn what they were wearing? Unfortunately we will never know, though this disappointment is occluded by the superabundance of primal guitar beating in evidence throughout the program.

Which brings us to the varying levels of musicianship on display during Waikiki Surf Battle. You could see where The Spiedels (like the wristwatch, I'm guessing) would win, place or at least show in any year. Angie & the Originals, an all-girl group, actually err on the side of tidiness at intervals, their phrasing so mannered and crisp. Other bands take liberties with tempo; rubato might be the kinder designation in this context. Each of the groups is worthy of the high decibel appreciation they receive, though it's not an altogether bad thing to keep Robert Wyatt's words in mind: "You may notice some technical inadequacies in some of my performances - a hesitant beat here, a dodgy note there - these are of course entirely deliberate and reproduced as evidence of my almost painful sincerity..." Rest assured: The Infasions (sic) are no less sincere.

In some instances, most notably the Royal Victors' rendition of "High Surf" that begins the 1963 Battle, the original vinyl sports egregious surface noise galore, some of which I've taken pains to expunge. An ineluctable quality, possibly the organic miasma spoken of by Frank Zappa, remains intact on these cuts, all the better to enhance the Lowell-Thomas-"You are there!" aspect essential to one's enjoyment of this summery ritual. The late Mr. Zappa was referring to the panties frequently tossed onstage by women during sets by his band, the Mothers of Invention; collected by the band's roadies, the undergarments in question - unwashed, of course, all the better to preserve said miasma - ultimately became constituent elements of a very large quilt.

The reference isn't so terribly off-base as all that. A great many Hawai'ian girls make a hell of a lot of noise in the course of Waikiki Surf Battle. Another concert released on lp a year or so later, The Kinks Live At Kelvin Hall, contained audience response approaching the status of musique concrete; considered in this light, the white noise generated by The Statics' appearance at the bandshell might have raised a smile on Pierre Schaeffer's weathered mug. There's probably as much screaming done in the course of these sets as during contemporary appearances by the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. I'd venture that The Pill had as yet to appear in Hawai'i when these recordings were made.