The Soft Boys, Austin Music Hall, Saturday 17

Live Shots

The Soft Boys

Austin Music Hall, Saturday 17

This was perhaps the least desirable of all outcomes. The Soft Boys were just okay. Had it been spectacular, that would have offered a two-decades-overdue "told you so" for the flamekeepers of the underappreciated. Had it failed spectacularly, that would have been almost forgivable. Sometimes taking nostalgia out for a walk is only a good idea, and the past is often best left there. But for the material from the band's recently reissued final album, Underwater Moonlight, to translate so unexceptionally into the present onstage is maybe the toughest thing to take. That's partly because the album itself is such a marvel. Pick up the reissue, throw it on your stereo, and hear what could pass for some of the most vibrant and original pop music being released today, despite the fact that it's over 20 years old. Onstage, though, opener "Tonight" came out a little stiff, and instrumental follow-up "You'll Have to Go Sideways" didn't do much to loosen things up, despite guitarist Kimberley Rew's honest efforts. It wasn't until a couple of songs in, with "He's a Reptile" and its "Please, Mr. Postman" chorus, that the band flexed any pop muscle. Even then, though they were playing the parts well, the music wasn't giving up the gist. It wasn't until "The Queen of Eyes" that the Soft Boys finally bloomed with Byrdsy-to-Beatles jangle underscored with that ever-subtle hint of Syd Barrett. Finally. There it is. Do more of that. Instead, the Boys fell back into a moderately pallid version of Underwater Moonlight's title track. For three brief minutes, however, with the set's penultimate song, "I Wanna Destroy You," the Soft Boys were the monsters of pop. In the best of all possible worlds, that song would be on the radio now and would indeed destroy all the teen avatars wreaking havoc on innocents everywhere. Immediately after it was over, the Soft Boys should have played it again. And again and again and again. They probably could have gotten away with a good, solid 15 minutes of it. Instead, they flattened out a bit with "Insanely Jealous." And that was it. All the hope, all the promise, not unfulfilled, just still unresolved. To be a shameless apologist, this was the band's first proper show in front of an audience in 20 years. Even the strongest of muscles will atrophy with that kind of layoff. Here's hoping they regain full strength quickly.

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