Split Enz was two hours late for its show at the Bayou last night. It seemed as if it were 16 years late, for the band members dressed in mod checkerboard shirts and played the British rock 'n' roll of 1964. More accurately, it sounded like a band from another planet that had just tuned in to a BBC broadcast from 1964. Split Enz mutated the sound with choppy rhythms, spaceship synthesizers and distanced vocals.
The New Zealand sextet -- led by brothers Tim and Neil Finn -- dominated the charts in Australia earlier this year with a hit single, "I Got You." The Finn brothers have an obvious flair for writing and singing pop melodies. The attractive melodies, though, were often sabotaged by the curious distance the performers kept from their own songs. It was as if the band members didn't quite trust their own feelings or the music they had adopted from another time and another place.
The evening's middle set featured Tax, a new Washington rock quartet. Like David Bowie, its obvious model, it tried to play detached, impersonal rock 'n' roll, a contradiction in terms. It performed with all the authenticity of fashion models.
In the opening set, comedian Bill Masters was at his best when he abandoned his predictable stand-up routine and acted out all the roles in hilarious skills about dentists, the "$20,000 Pyramid" game and the men's room at a Redskins game.