Uncut Editor's Diary
The Strange Boys: Club Uncut, London Borderline, June 24 2010
When Ryan Sambol, who frankly looks like he hasn’t slept since beds were invented, asks if we want to hear another new song the only people in a packed Borderline who perhaps aren’t sure they do at this particular point are his band, Austin’s The Strange Boys.
This may have more than something to do with the fact that when Ryan asks the question, the band are actually still playing “Heard You Want To Beat Me Up”, Ryan’s hilariously effervescent vamp from debut album The Strange Boys And Girls Club about making out with another guy’s girlfriend and the bitter consequences of such recklessness, which they now quickly bring to a halt even as Ryan starts playing, as promised, the evidently new “Hidden Meanings Soul Graffiti”, which is already going down a storm when the band join in.
What’s going on right now seems not untypical of the way things might regularly happen around Sambol. The band, you imagine, have long-since learned to live on their wits in his unpredictable company, in anticipation of his digressive whims and unexpected changes of what at some point may have been an agreed course from here to there. They look well-practised in the art of anticipation.
Sambol’s conspicuous restlessness, a kind of fidgety need to keep things moving, people left behind if they can’t keep up, is meanwhile reflected in his songs, which only on a few occasions breach the three minute mark, the majority of them barely coming in above two minutes, and several even less than that (they get through 18 tonight and are still offstage in about an hour).
The first time you come across The Strange Boys on record, you might therefore think they’re making not much more than a scrappy racket. Tracks come and go at a fair old clip, songs starting and finishing before you’ve properly settled into them, a fitful blur of twanging rockabilly, 60s R&B, garage rock, country, slovenly blues, pre-Beatles American teen pop, Tex-Mex rave-ups, scuzzy rock’n’roll. After not too many more plays of . . .And Girls Club and the more recent Be Brave, however, songs that initially seemed to be not quite there are suddenly hard to get out of your head, which is when you realise there’s a lot more to them than mere ramshackle charm and an endearing waywardness.
And it’s uncanny how they remind you of so many people without actually sounding like them. Sambol’s enervated squawk, for instance, doesn’t really sound like early Dylan, but you can understand, listening more closely to the way he sings, why people often make the comparison. Similarly, tonight you can hear echoes of The 13th Floor Elevators, early Love, the Velvets and The Yardbirds. They’re clearly in thrall, too, to the Stones when Brian Jones was as much of a musical driving force in the band as Keith Richards.
Thursday night’s highlights at Club Uncut came as they say thick and fast, the swooning harmonies on the wilfully provocative “Should Have Shot Paul”, the woozy Exile On Main St lurch of “Da Da”, the Bo Diddley wallop of “Who Needs Who More”, the joyous whoop of “Be Brave”, the voyeuristic rumble of “Laugh At Sex, Not Her” (“My friends are having sex in the other room/Being quite as they can. . .”), the Beat Boom bomp of “Poem Party”, the off-kilter clatter of “Woe Is You And Me”.
It all ends marvellously, too, with, of all things, a version of Dusty Springfield’s “Son Of A Preacher Man”, a skewed, sultry groove, as remarkable as it is unexpected, which is The Strange Boys all over.
See you back here on August 16, for the terrific Fool’s Gold.