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Pop Music Review

Soft Boys, 'Underwater Moonlight' Aging Gracefully

April 12, 2001|NATALIE NICHOLS

"It's taken a long time to recover from being young," singer-guitarist Robyn Hitchcock wryly informed the Knitting Factory crowd on Tuesday, the end of a reunion tour with his early band the Soft Boys. "And it's a strange perception to find ourselves standing here playing this stuff again."

Little known in its time, the British group influenced college rockers from R.E.M. to the Flaming Lips. While most English acts were into slash-and-burn punk, the Soft Boys' celebrated 1980 album "Underwater Moonlight" blended buzzing guitars, chiming folky melodies and classic-pop harmonizing into a then-unfashionable pop that has endured just as long and arguably aged more gracefully.

On Tuesday, the "Moonlight" lineup of Hitchcock, guitarist Kimberley Rew, bassist Matthew Seligman and drummer Morris Windsor nimbly negotiated a 90-plus-minute set.

If the music didn't seem nearly as bent as it did 21 years ago, the material proved that Hitchcock's preoccupation with insects and amphibians, not to mention his delightfully twisted gift for taking ordinary emotions to bizarre extremes, was fully formed well before he became a full-blown cult figure. And when he dedicated a laid-back rendition of "I Wanna Destroy You" to President Bush, the tune's antiwar message felt as urgent as ever.

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