Unclaimed Central L.A.

by Don Waller
issued on New York Rocker (September 1981)

If they gave gold records for looks, the Unclaimed would be on their way to platinum by now. With their black leather vests over black turtleneck sweaters and Prince Valiant haircuts atop curled-lip sneers, they've got the mid-'60s garage band/Standells/Music Machine look down Rolling Stones cold. I mean, the only thing missing is a black leather glove on the organist's hand.
This mastery of period aesthetics extends to the group's sound as well. Basically, it's a flashback to the daze of 1966, a melange a trois of folk-rock, first generation punk, and primal psychedelic trips. In fact, the whole scene tonight at the Central (located half a block from the Whisky in the heart of Hollywood) is appropriately reminiscent of the Chocolate Watch Band footage in Riot On Sunset Strip. Even mad blues avatar Eric Burdon, who knows a thing or two about the psychedelic experience, is in attendance, soaking up booze and deja voodoo.
More importantly, beyond the postures (lead singer/guitarist Shelley Ganz, a ringer for Sean Bonniwell, does a nice line of vintage Jaggerisms), the Unclaimed play even better than they look. Bassist Barry Shank and drummer Matthew Roberts make up a particularly explosive rhythm section, while granny-spectacled lead guitarist Sid Griffin alternates between six-string Jeff Beck rave-ups and Byrdsy 12-string jingle-jangles. Organist/guitarist Rich Coffee, the new kid in the band, has completely erased the guy he replaced from the memory banks.
The Unclaimed crank out kinetic covers: Little Girl (Syndicate of Sound), He's Waiting (Sonics), The Rains Came (Sir Douglas) and Sweet Young Thing (Chocolate Watch Band) as well as more obscure numbers by the Hysterics, Wee The People, and an unreleased Syndicate of Sound tune. But the group's original material, by and large, lacks danceability (remember, such psychedoodling was the genesis of Genesis) and distinctive melody (more da doo ron ron, please). Still the live band is much more potent than their sole recorded product (a Moxie EP consisting of The Sorrow, Time To Time, Run From Home and Deposition Central (The Acid Song) - all of which the Unclaimed still perform) would indicate. Some of the newer songs, notably No Apology and a lunatic instrumental called Dream Scream, show more attention to structure, though that may be of scant relevance in light of Shelley Ganz's cooked-out-on-10,000-mikes-of-Blue-Owsley obsession.
As it stands, the Unclaimed are a first rate club band, worth anybody's five bucks to see once. In '66 they would have been the hippest thing going. In '72 or even '76, they'd have been a godsend. But the musical advances from '77 on have shown this sort of return to a used-to-be-that-never-was style to be altogether too limited. Until the entire group develops a more dynamic visual stance and a set's worth of grooves suitable for dancing, I'm afraid their appeal will be restricted to aficionados of the genre and curious kids who missed it the first time around. Myself, I've got a date with Mimsy Farmer to see the Unclaimed at the Starwood next Wednesday, and we're gonna score some 'shrooms. Hope she doesn't freak out… freak out… freak out…

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