The Soft Boys show at last year's South by Southwest was so surprisingly enjoyable it weakened somewhat my instinctive distrust of rock reunions. Twenty years after the band's breakup, guitarists Robyn Hitchcock and Kimberley Rew are still perfect foils for each other, their dynamic leads tangling together and then skittering apart. The quartet focused on their 1980 classic Underwater Moonlight, then just reissued by Matador, and they faithfully rendered the album's concise psychedelic beauty; as a bonus, Hitchcock's sometimes charming but usually irritating between-song fever-dream monologues were kept to a minimum. Since all four members have been collaborating over the last few years, the band's decision to make a new record is hardly surprising. The fluid guitar interplay between Hitchcock and Rew remains, as they nail tricky unison passages and spar in loose-limbed jams, but Hitchcock wrote most of the songs on Nextdoorland (Matador), and they only rarely shake off the predictable whimsy that now dominates his solo work: "Mr. Kennedy" depicts the numbing grind of steady touring ("Coming into Cleveland / Riding in the van with Sebadoh"), while "Unprotected Love" hints at a yearning vulnerability behind his usual trippy imagery. On Nextdoorland, it feels as though the band is consciously echoing Underwater Moonlight; instead of just trying to be good, they're trying explicitly to be the Soft Boys. Monday, October 28, 7:30 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee; 773-489-3160.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michele Noach.