Strangely underwhelming
The Strange Boys - Live At The Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

Strange was the predominant theme for a Sunday night gig in Leeds by The Strange Boys. On tour from their home in Austin, Texas, the four young men must think the Brudenell Social Club a pretty strange place to be playing in. Away from the city centre in a residential part of town distinguished by run down terraced housing with iron security gates on all the front doors, the venue is a pleasant surprise in otherwise depressed surroundings. An intimate space with retro styling, the venue is cool and the atmosphere’s laid back, friendly and tinged with expectancy. Only playing a handful of UK gigs on a European tour, The Strange Boys pull in a sizeable crowd of hipsters and students all eager for a Sunday night hoedown.

What is also strange then is why the band doesn’t deliver live. On record this young bunch whip up a ramshackle storm with instantly catchy hooks and irrepressible foot-tapping rhythms, all gleeful harmonica, plinky plonk piano and hobo beats. But tonight they play with such a lack of interest and intent they’d have trouble whipping up a bowl of Angel Delight. The lead guitarist plays his Gretsch with deft skill, but he barely moves and holds an expressionless face throughout the entire set. The bassist is the same, an almost motionless blank. They seem barely present, taking no pleasure whatsoever in performing. Maybe it’s tour fatigue or perhaps they’re already jaded? Despite looking barely into their twenties, the band members got together nearly a decade ago. Whatever the reason, the batch of undeniably brilliant songs they have just don’t take off tonight.

A handful of happy inebriates in the front row burst into the occasional jig, but they don’t notice things like singer Ryan Sambol forgetting his lyrics mid-song and are oblivious to the fact that no one else in the crowd was getting into the gig. The frontman at least invests some conviction into his performance though. He plays harmonica and guitar with the occasional flourish of gusto and his Korg organ with hand bashing enthusiasm. But he remains alone in breaking a sweat.

It’s disappointing because The Strange Boys have made three great albums and it was easy to understand the reports of excitement at Rough Trade records when they joined them. Just listen to standout tracks like ‘Be Brave’ from the 2010 album of the same name, or ‘Me and You’ from last year’s ‘Live Music’, and, like the rag taggle style of music or not, they clearly sound as if they’re having a rip-roaring time recording together. But the loose, good ole time magic they capture on record - the warts and all beauty of which is the lo-fi and unpolished sound - is strangely absent when they perform. Brilliant on record, underwhelming live on this occasion.

Words and photo by Nick Rice

Click here for a photo gallery of the gig.

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