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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Soft Boys prove they're revived and kicking

The band mixes new and old tunes, plus guitar work as distinctive as its lyrics.

November 06, 2002|Natalie Nichols | Special to The Times

Last year, English cult-pop figure Robyn Hitchcock and his early band the Soft Boys delighted fans and impressed critics with a reunion tour. This year the players released a fine new album, "Nextdoorland," and during the group's performance Monday at the House of Blues, the material proved as contemporary as anything by all these young "rock revival" acts.

In a 90-minute set, Hitchcock and guitarist Kimberley Rew, bassist Matthew Seligman and drummer Morris Windsor mixed new tunes with selections from their seminal 1980 collection "Underwater Moonlight" and songs by Love and Bob Dylan.

Singer-songwriter Hitchcock has a reputation for eccentricity, fueled mainly by his use of freaky metaphors involving such un-pop things as insects, bones and aquatic life to explore ordinary emotional situations such as unrequited love and suburban childhood drama. But on Monday his guitar work, while perhaps equally quirky, was as distinctive as his lyrical imagery.

On such new tunes as "Mr. Kennedy" and older favorites such as "Insanely Jealous," he and Rew engaged in electrifying give-and-take, often spinning into a warped jam-band sprawl while contrasting guttural, Stones-esque blues-rock licks with jangling, angular riffs reminiscent of Wire or Television.

And, yes, they played the seminal antiwar song "I Wanna Destroy You" (dedicated to Bush and Co., just like last year), but by then the band had proved it was capable of much more than revisiting the old days with enthusiasm and panache.

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