Soft Boys at Metro


April 1, 2001



By Jim DeRogatis

Pop Music Critic

What becomes a legend most?

In the case of reunited cult heroes the Soft Boys, it wasn’t the songs that made them underground heroes--though tunes like "I Wanna Destroy You," "Underwater Moonlight" and "Queen of Eyes" were pleasant enough when the quartet played a sold-out show at Metro on Friday.

Bandleader Robyn Hitchcock, guitarist Kimberly Rew, drummer Morris Windsor and bassist Matthew Seligman seemed most inspired when they were paying homage to the ’60s influences that first motivated them to pick up their instruments two decades ago, back when they were too-smart-for-college, too-pop-for-punk twentysomethings in Cambridge, England.

A chiming version of the Byrds’ "Bells of Rhymney" early in the set was positively transcendent. An encore of the Velvet Underground’s "Train ’Round the Bend" was the closest these aging Boys came to full-throttle rock. And the foursome seemed to have the most fun all night while they were barreling through Pink Floyd’s "Astronomy Domine."

There were problems with this performance, just as there were with a set at the South By Southwest Music & Media Conference two weeks ago. In an effort to harness the on-stage volume so the vocals wouldn’t be overpowered, Windsor was relegated to a miniature cocktail-lounge drum set, and Hitchcock and Rew made do with one Fender Twin Reverb amp a piece.

The scaled-down gear seemed to be part of an overall plan of restraint. There was little hint of the earliest incarnation of the Soft Boys, when the two creative and fiery guitarists often seemed to be wrestling to the death through epic six-string duels.

To be sure, there were plenty of sparks as they traded spiralling riffs, Hitchcock on his Telecaster, and Rew with his Strat. But the raging conflagration never erupted.

On the bright side, the band didn’t resort to the sort of greatest hits nostalgia fest that so many other reunited combos have delivered. Their classic songs--which also included "Insanely Jealous," "Human Music" and "Only the Stones Remain"--were interspersed over the course of a nearly two-hour set with five new tunes that have seemingly been taking shape on the road.

These numbers were in the softer, more mature mode of recent Hitchcock solo offerings. But the band elevated them to a new level, with Rew delivering his staccato explosions and Windsor adding expert harmonies in addition to propulsive rhythms.

Opening the show: long-running English folk-rocker John Wesley Harding, who still loves himself a little more than is really warranted. The highlights of his set were a spirited cover of Roky Erickson’s "If You Have Ghosts," driven along with gleeful abandon by ex-Dumptruck guitarist and Steve Wynn sideman Kirk Swan.