Soft Boys Show They're Aging Gracefully At SXSW

U.K. quartet kick off reunion tour Saturday at Austin festival, supporting reissued Underwater Moonlight.

AUSTIN, Texas — Foot soldiers of the old punk/new wave insurgency of the late '70s and early '80s have always held in their hearts a particular, er, soft spot for England's Soft Boys, the more-than-slightly cracked power-pop quartet that sprang, "Alien"-like, from the fertile — albeit mostly cracked — mind of singer/guitarist Robyn Hitchcock. Fitting, then, that they should suddenly re-form to tour in support of a reissue of their 1980 album, Underwater Moonlight, long regarded as a classic of sorts — or, to put it more accurately, a classic out-of-sorts.

Hitchcock was still a young man when he wrote such hummable relationship-bashing songs as "Insanely Jealous," "He's a Reptile" and "I Wanna Destroy You." Now that Hitchcock is 20 years older and looking positively Peter Cook-ian, with his hair on the salt side of the shaker, songs such as "Old Pervert" ("Let me show you what's in my fridge") make far more sense than perhaps they ever needed to.

Kicking off the reunion tour Saturday night at the South by Southwest music festival, drummer Morris Windsor, bassist Matthew Seligman and, most significantly, second guitarist Kimberley Rew (also in silver-gray-hair mode and sporting a semi-delusional, fixed smile throughout the band's performance; maybe he was afraid someone was going to yell out for "Walking on Sunshine") provided the instrumental power and pop, with the kind of jangling, jagged-edged arrangements that made them cult-worthy to begin with.

There were those in the crowd at the full but not jammed Austin Music Hall who seemed to be disappointed that the group's cerebral rather than physically draining performance of this music from 1980 hadn't actually made them feel like it was 1980 again. To which all we can say is that it's important to remember to remember that the Move once had a hit in the U.K. with a song called "I Can Hear the Grass Grow." They spend their energy differently over there.