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Within an hour of waking up Tuesday, I realized I could not forgive myself if I didn’t see the Athens show. There's no way of knowing right now if there’ll be another Soft Boys tour after this one, and I knew I couldn’t miss what might be my last chance to see them.
The second date of the tour, at the legendary "new
wave" club which has the feel of a comfortable
oversized living room, did not appear to be any better
attended than the first, but the love hung like a
thick fog in the air when the four wacky-yet-dignified
Englishmen took the stage. New near-instrumental
number "I Love Lucy" was the set opener, and was
followed immediately with "Kingdom of Love." I
realized I was starting to lose my composure, and when
they went without pause into "Queen of Eyes," your
corpulent, balding, middle-aged correspondent was
crying like a baby who’d just found out that the Baby
President is going to survive a particularly
frightening attempted assassination. I stopped short
of making a complete fool of myself, but the tears were flowing pretty freely. It’s just as well nobody noticed.
The set was pretty close to the previous night’s, though there were a few surprising substitutions. When I heard them strike up, "I Want to Be an Anglepoise Lamp," I felt as if I was hallucinating the whole event, and the other major surprise of the night--"The Man with the Light Bulb Head"-- revealed itself to be the great Soft Boys record that never was.
Robyn seemed to be less interested in talking at the Athens show. Most of the introductions were kept to a minute or so, and lots of songs were played with no introduction at all. It seemed that he was enjoying playing in this band so much, that he wasn’t interested in taking any longer than necessary to get on with the music. (Though the drunken asshole standing in front of Kimberly screaming "Only the Stones Remain!" between every song may have been a factor. It’s easier to drown fools out with a whole band than a single voice.)
I was lucky enough to be front and center for this performance, so I can tell you that Robyn had his blue Fender Telecaster running through a wah-wah pedal, as well as pedals for overdrive, tremolo, and delay. He used all of them at one time or another, sometimes in twos or threes. And watching his hands at close range performing all those hammer-ons and pull-offs confirmed my long-held belief that Richard Thompson must have been a major influence on his guitar style (e.g. the Fairportian romp of "Muriel’s Hoof"/"The Rout of the Clones" on ‘Invisible Hits’). Kimberly was about six feet farther away, so I couldn’t read his pedals, but watching his hands move lightning fast across his white Fender Stratocaster was quite a show too. The interaction of Kimberly and Robyn’s guitars, producing parts which alternately complemented and competed with each other, but always fit perfectly together, was a wonder to behold. Not to mention the rock steady rhythm section and the beautiful vocal harmonies. All in all, a perfect performance by one of the all-time great bands in rock history, and one which deserves every bit of its legendary status.
Here’s the Athens set list from memory:
Hear My Brane
I Wanna Be an Anglepoise Lamp
I Wanna Destroy You
Kingdom of Love
The Queen of Eyes
Only the Stones Remain
When I Was a Kid
The Man with the Lightbulb Head
I Love Lucy
Pulse of My Heart
My Mind Is Connected to Your Dreams
As with the Atlanta list, I might have forgotten something, so any additions would be welcome.
PS: Thanks to my nephew Lee, who accompanied me to the show and went away fully converted, and my brother Dennis who called as I write this to tell me he’s just listened five times through to the copy of ‘Nextdoorland’ I gave him yesterday. Now I'm going to sleep. Goodnight.