By Jason Shoff
If you happened to read my review last week of the Salad Boys’ new album Metalmania, you might recall that I mentioned how I was looking forward to hearing their ‘80s college rock-style songs in a live setting, to see how they would sound when compared to their recorded versions. Well I managed to get my chance last night, as their current U.S. tour made a stop in Tempe at the Time Out Lounge, where they performed alongside local acts Soft Shell, Jade Helm, and Pro Teens. But honestly, I’m still quite surprised that they weren’t able to play at a bigger venue in town.
Now don’t get me wrong: the Time Out Lounge is a fine drinking establishment. There’s plenty of pool tables, a handful of TVs that play whatever sporting events are going on, and various arcade and pinball machines scattered about the bar (one of which I played and, consequently, sucked horribly at). It’s in essence a quintessential dive bar, and is thus not the first place that comes to mind when I think of a place to see an international touring act. In fact, considering their PR firm gave me both a +1 AND a photo pass to the show, I don’t think they really knew what kind of bar it was, either. Yet having said all of that, one of the managers was really hyping the show beforehand and sounded genuinely excited to have them there; which, when you’re a touring act, is really all you can ask for.
After a DJ spun a few tunes for about 10 minutes or so (which was also kind of weird to see at Time Out Lounge), I was expecting only Andy Phipps to take the stage, as the event had billed him as “Pro Teens (Solo).” However, to my great surprise (and excitement), the majority of the rest of the band played, as well, meaning the Salad Boys got to hear one of my favorite local acts play in most of their full glory. As an opening band, they were a perfect fit: their indie rock sound is not too different from that of the headliner, and they were pretty tight and together throughout their entire set. They also had their new album for sale in the back of the drummer’s van, apparently, but I couldn’t find him afterwards to pick up a copy; however, you can listen to their self-titled release here.
Jade Helm then followed with a relatively short and brief set of tight and concise rock, which, in retrospect, was sort of a bummer, as I felt like I only got a taste of what they sounded like as a band. Of course this may not have been fully under their control, as it was a relatively jammed-packed bill that was running a bit behind on time at this point. But I did like what I heard, as Helm played a mixture of various punk and indie rock stylings, from numbers that sounded like The Pixies by way of The Walkmen to less than-a-minute Bikini Kill-esque rockers to a song that sounded like Pat Benatar by way of Joan Jett. And while there wasn’t really a number that made my jaw hit the floor, their set was solid enough that I’d be more than interested to catch a gig in the future and will continue to follow their progress going forward.
Sadly, I can’t say the same thing for Soft Shell. I’m honestly still trying to figure out what I heard. If I have to describe it, it sounded like I was listening to three separate sound systems that were blaring simultaneously, with one playing the Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime, one playing Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff, and another playing Slayer’s Reign in Blood. In essence, they sounded incredibly loud and all over the place, with so much dissonance feeding back at you (especially when it came to the bass) that I couldn’t distinguish anything at all. On top of that, their lead singer sounded like he was going for punk rock screaming, yet his vocals sounded relatively apathetic: a grating, monotone sort of shouting with no real unique vocal timbre whatsoever. Yet they had a lot of vinyl available for sale, and they do seem to have a bit of a following around town, as well. So maybe they had an off night, or maybe I just don’t get the kind of sound that they’re going for. But needless to say, it wasn’t a great first impression.
Thankfully, the Salad Boys were there to close the night and cleanse my aural palette of what I had just heard. Surprisingly, though, they were actually a tad bit more mellow sounding live than I thought they’d be. See, I pictured them as being the kind of band where their songs would be given a raw sort of intensity when stripped of their production. But since singer and guitarist Joe Sampson mostly sticks to playing the song’s main chords, only adding riffs and solos here and there, the songs are actually more bare-bones, lacking the lushness that the multiple guitar tracks of the album provided. That doesn’t make their set any less enjoyable, however; in fact, playing the songs in their bare-bones structure makes you realize how solid they actually are. It also doesn’t mean that their songs are any less-invigorating, either: “Dream Date,” in particular, sounded way more Replacements-esque than in its studio version, and “Daytime Television” gained a roughness that made it more Buddy Holly than The Everly Brothers. “Bow to Your New Sensation” also sounded even more radio ready than I ever thought it possibly could, as well (seriously, guys, this song needs to be your next single). In fact, out of their entire set, only “No Taste Bomber” didn’t improve on its recorded version, and that’s only because they ended it with an extended jam that doesn’t work when you don’t have a second guitarist to feed off of or bounce riffs and solos against. But all in all, their set definitely didn’t disappoint, and it confirms my belief that this will be a band to keep your eye on in the future.
Overall, it was a fun night that more or less met my expectations. The sound was solid throughout, and the crowd seemed engaged, as well, or at the very least polite and respectful if they were busy playing a game of pool or sitting at the bar. Still, though, I really do hope the Salad Boys manage to book a more traditional venue during their next tour, as I’d love to hear how they sound at a place like Crescent Ballroom or Valley Bar. They’re a band that deserves to play on that kind of a stage, and I can tell you that they won’t disappoint if they’re given a chance.