Shriekback is nothing if not mercurial. Since its formation in the early '80s, the English band has undergone about as many personnel changes as the Dodgers' lineup last season.
The creative core of the 1986 version remains a trio, but now the composition is different: co-founder Carl Marsh is gone and drummer Martyn Barker is a permanent member.
And the Shriekback that took the stage Wednesday at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano had once again been expanded to an octet. The troupe immediately lit into "Nemesis," a fiery dance romp that, like many Shriekback tunes, is equal parts brain and brawn.
Fronted by shaven-headed dynamo Barry Andrews, the band proceeded to churn out a handful of funky, percussive blowouts. Just when it looked like a night of propulsive pop, Shriekback completely switched gears.
The octet eased into some soft, atmospheric pieces, including a pair from the new "Big Night Music" LP. Then, just when it looked like an evening of lulling trance tunes, Shriekback shifted back into rhythmic overdrive.
Propelled by ex-Gang of Fourman Dave Allen's bouncy bass lines, the group raced through sizzling renditions of such Shriekback classics as "My Spine (Is the Bassline)" and "Lined Up." For many outfits, this kind of wildly varied set would simply mean an erratic, unraveled performance.
But thanks to excellent songs and superior musicianship, Shriekback turned the scattershot approach into an exhilarating victory. Of course, one might question the decision to ignore superb songs like the new "Gunning for the Buddha" in favor of reprising "Nemesis."
But if it hadn't been delightfully unpredictable, it wouldn't have been Shriekback. The band plays the Beverly Theatre in Beverly Hills tonight.