Funnily enough, I hadn’t seen The Strange Boys live before their show at the Garage. In my mind they were sort of like Todd Haynes’ depiction of The Beatles in I’m Not There. I don’t know why, but I’d caricatured them; mentally, I’d turned them into funny little creatures. I guess that’s because I’ve listened to their albums countless times but never had the opportunity to put a living image to the sound. Not that that’s important in any way. It was sort of funny though. Anyway, when I saw the four of them on stage and in person it was quite a shock. Ryan Sambol, who had been cast as the mischievous ringleader in my cartoon interpretation, came across more like a Levon Helms than a Paul McCartney. In a down home sort of way he was very country. Not like Webb Pierce decked out in a nudie suit but more Dylan on the front of Nashville Skyline. There’s plenty of mischief in him though. This is a long shot, but at times I got the impression that The Strange Boys is a vehicle for the mischief inside of him; it seems like songs are spontaneously adapted on the night to fit the mood of his mischief, while phrases are slurred, words are barked out and yelps and hollers keep the audience on their toes. It takes a lot of energy and a great band to pull this off, two assets that The Strange Boys possess in bulk.
It’s clear by now that The Strange Boys aren’t a band that let themselves be bossed around. After two hell raising rock and roll albums, Live Music, their third album, found them departing to somewhat different territory. Tonight, while the band make sure that older songs aren’t simply repeated from their recordings, I was somewhat surprised that they revisited older territory. A shout for Should Have Shot Paul, however, was met with some sermonising from Ryan. “That’s a song of hatred” he retorted after playing a few bars of Wings’ Band on The Run. All good fun. All very mischievous.
The Strange Boys at the Garage wasn’t your typical rock and roll show. There was no bravado or mystery (the lights were kept on during the set and smoke? Forget about it). Maybe these things are just gimmicks in the eyes of the Strange Boys. Whatever. They didn’t need it anyway. There’s something much more inscrutable about this band, something that can’t be hit upon in a few phrases. All I can say is, if you have enjoyed The Strange Boys’ records you’ve only had half the fun. Go and see them live and a few more pieces will be added to the puzzle.
Words: Joe Stevens