From the opening salvo of "Pull of the Moon"'s hellaciously swirling guitar riff, the Mermen's Live at the Haunted House reveals itself as an atypical live record. Culled from a series of frequent appearances between 1991-1994 on Phil Dirt's surf show (broadcast on Los Altos Hills, CA's KFJC-FM), this 74-minute tour de force captures all the majestic reverb, lovely tonality, and loose humor that made this San Francisco trio cult favorites in the mid-'90s. As if acknowledging its unusual, live-in-the-studio limitations, Live at the Haunted House contains seven numbers never released on Mermen studio albums -- including the perennial showstopper "Casbah," on which guitarist Jim Thomas uses his whammy bar as a virtual finger trampoline. "Slo Mo HVO" is shorthand for the band's wonderfully languid take on the "Hawaii Five-O" theme, while "Quiet Surf" and "Gulch of Spleens" (an original song unavailable elsewhere) each pulse with reserved sway. Finally, there is "The Whales Are Coming and Boy Are They Pissed," a meaty sloppy joe of surf standards, classic rock staples, Yiddish traditionals, and American show tunes. Bits of "Miserlou," "Paint It Black," "Hava Nagila," and "America" all provide high points throughout the track's 11 minutes and 32 seconds, none of which are as nutty as exhausted drummer Martyn Jones' faint screams of "Hurry up!" before the marathon medley's raging coda. Other feathers in Live at the Haunted House's cap are the updated versions of two songs from the band's distortion-free 1989 debut, Krill Slippin': "Lonely Road (Krill Slippin')" and "Splashing With the Mermaid"; each brims here with additional warmth. Contrarily, the five songs that also appear (in different versions) on Food for Other Fish seem peripheral to the cause at hand; the apparent thrust of this album is to showcase songs unavailable elsewhere. Keeping that in mind while not expecting a live best-of set is perhaps the best way to enjoy this quirky, yet ultimately essential Mermen collection.
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AllMusic Review by Charles Hodgkins