Last Night: The Strange Boys at the Hemlock
The Strange Boys
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Better than: Fireworks.
The Strange Boys' ringleader, Ryan Sambol, has the girth of a stray dog and the voice of an alley cat. Last night he was a scrawny scrap of musician tucked under a white two gallon cowboy hat, and his gaze was cockeyed: of his two glassy, heavy-lidded peepers, one seemed to drift into repose when Sambol howled while the other paid a little more attention, rolling around inside its socket. All this is to say Ryan Sambol looks like one of those kids who can't help but be a little strange, so he became really Strange instead, putting on a hell of a show along the way.
The Austin, Texas act kicked off with "Woe is You and Me," one of my favorite songs off one of my favorite albums, The Strange Boys and Girls Club. Live, the band sounded like its instruments were made of tin, cheap things these guys could bash to hell and seem all nonchalant about it, when really there's some next-level tight songwriting there at the core, the invisible wire making sure the sound of falling apart never means actually having to fall apart.
The set list included covers that sounded like the Strange Boy's own mix of Nuggets-y stomp 'n' psych, and Nuggets-y stomp 'n' psych that sounded like covers (including one tune that might've been a Band song--fitting since Sambol has a bit of the Dylan creak in his voice). But the show started out with a request--from the singer, for a handkerchief, which he wrapped around his mic like he was protecting a wound, distorting his voice for a couple tunes (and also provoking from the crowd the quip: "Can we get more handkerchief in the monitor?").
Even when the band wasn't using ladies' accessories to tweak a tweaked take on old school R & B & rock & roll, they still had the crowd wrapped around their skinny little digits. Tony B., the Hemlock's booker/tastemaker, has had the Strange Boys play a half dozen times at his club: halfway through their set last night, he seemed impressed enough by the performance to remark, "They sound so good."
And yeah, they sounded so good for their short set--and immediately afterwards, when the jukebox blasted their music into the bar, offering one more tune to the folks leaving the club and the ones who'd missed out on one of garage rock's best little secrets in the first place.
Critical Bias: Strange Boys tourmates The Coathangers, a group of female (post) punks from Atlanta, had a cool sound instrumentally, but their voices were so shrill, and their collective screeching so loud, I retreated to the bar after a couple songs.