By Scott Roberts; photos by Sue Volkert
“I was looking at our set list,” mused principal songwriter/lead singer/rhythm guitarist Murray Attaway halfway through Guadalcanal Diary’s headlining appearance at AthFest this past Saturday, the first of their two planned 30th anniversary reunion shows (the second will be this coming Saturday at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta), “and I realized this next song is the only one written after 1989.” The aging though still nimble band then dutifully launched into the oddball “Pau Pau,” a rare song written and sung by bassist Rhett Crowe, who seemed to be the most excited member on stage.
It’s hard to know if Attaway delivered this compositional fact with melancholy or bemusement, but it was easy to know that the hundreds of people crowding the outdoor stage on Washington Street were not concerned when the songs were written, but rather that they still sounded as fresh and energetic as they did when they were first heard and performed. Along with the other two original (and only) members of the former band from Marietta, lead guitarist Jeff Walls (the most musically active member of the band post-Diary) and brilliantly kinetic drummer John Poe, Guadalcanal Diary played an unsurprisingly enjoyable set of 25 songs chock-full of fan favorites. They were nearly all there: “Watusi Rodeo,” “Trail of Tears,” “Litany,” “Whiskey Talk” and “Vista,” among others. The one glaringly absent song from the set was perhaps their most well-known song and the closest they ever came to a bona fide hit, “Always Saturday,” made even more conspicuous by its absence considering the day of the show. Maybe at Smith’s…
The most moving moment of the performance, however, was also the most surprising: the band did a slightly truncated version of Pylon’s “Cool” tacked on to their tried-and-true cover of “Kumbaya” in a fine tribute to Pylon’s one-of-a-kind late guitarist Randy Bewley. This moment underscored the fact that fans of Guadalcanal Diary’s unique brand of lyrically wry, hip-shakingly melodic songs should feel grateful that all four members are still around and have the ability and wherewithal to occasionally get together to celebrate a magical time in their lives as well as the lives of the listeners.
Guadalcanal Diary plays July 2, at Smith’s Olde Bar.