If ever a band got together at the wrong place and the wrong time, it was the Soft Boys. In England in 1976, first-generation punk rockers like the Clash and the Sex Pistols were setting the tone in rock 'n' roll with power chords and proletarian posturing. But singer-guitarist Robyn Hitchcock, guitarist Kimberly Rew, drummer Morris Windsor, and bassist Andy Metcalfe (later replaced by Matthew Seligman) played ambitious pop that mated Hitchcock's surreal lyrics to soaring Byrds-esque harmonies, acid psychedelia a la Syd Barrett, Beefhearty avant blues, and antique folk rock. The Soft Boys' second full-length, 1980's Underwater Moonlight, was their masterpiece; instead of lurching between these influences from song to song, the band achieved an indelibly tuneful synthesis of all of them. "I Wanna Destroy You" protests the state of the world as angrily as the punks and "Old Pervert" casts a jaundiced eye on masculine sexuality, while the title tune is a typically skewed Hitchcock romance--two people go out to sea and drown. When the album first came out in England, it bombed, but across the Atlantic a legion of jangly 80s guitar bands followed it like the North Star. Matador Records has just reissued Underwater Moonlight, along with nine previously released songs from the same sessions and nearly an hour of unissued demos, as a double CD and as a triple LP, and even in this swollen state it holds up well. Although the band broke up in 1981, the members have never stopped collaborating: Seligman produced one of Hitchcock's solo efforts, Metcalfe and Windsor backed Hitchcock as the Egyptians for nearly a decade, and within the past three years Rew and Hitchcock have played on each other's records and toured together. To support the rerelease, the lineup from Underwater Moonlight (with Seligman on bass) has reunited to make a first proper tour of America. According to a friend who caught the show at South by Southwest, they're playing flawless re-creations of the album's songs. Friday, March 30, 8 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Swider.