LIVE: Boss Hog @ Club Helsinki, 6/9/18
Review by Steven Stock
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Boss Hog’s performance at Hudson’s Club Helsinki was supposed to be the second night of a shakedown cruise of sorts, a chance to iron out any kinks in their performance before the band jetted off to Spain for a series of Iberian dates. In truth, the Manhattan-based five-piece led by guitarist Jon Spencer and singer Cristina Martinez sounded sugarshit sharp, to borrow a phrase from the duo’s initial band, ’80s scuzz-rockers Pussy Galore.
Thirty-odd years after her debut Martinez remains a riveting stage presence, and like Iggy Pop she simply abhors any separation between band and audience. When Boss Hog’s opening number “Devious Motherfucker” failed to fill the dancefloor directly in front of the stage, Martinez jumped offstage and crossed the gulf herself, getting in the face of those of us in the first row while she sang “Winn Coma.” Her actions weren’t really aggressive or confrontational, it just seemed like she wanted some engagement from the crowd, which at a posh supper club like Helsinki is sometimes tempted to pay more attention to the glorious cuisine than the racket onstage.
Martinez’ gambit seemed to have the desired effect, helped no doubt by the cross-eyed funk rhythms that underpinned the subsequent “Black Eyes.” First a trickle, then a flood, the audience abandoned their plates and filled the dancefloor. Boss Hog doesn’t really play dance music per se, but it’s definitely booty-shaking fare, and bassist Jens Jurgensen and drummer Hollis Queens weren’t helping Helsinki’s dessert sales.
Spencer plays an interesting role in the band, occasionally joining in on vocals and playing terse little guitar solos more reminiscent of Arto Lindsay and Fred Frith than his New York forebears Johnny Thunders and Johnny Ramone. His jagged playing on “17” was some of the most appealing atonal squawking you’re likely to ever hear.
Mickey Finn’s keyboard playing was almost self-effacing, comprised of catchy little runs carefully integrated into the rhythm section’s work rather than calling attention to his adeptness. Boss Hog is basically an irresistible funk band with an avant-garde guitarist and a compelling singer who brings a dollop of Weegee’s Manhattan, lending a dark edge to the festive music, much like the mascara that Martinez uses to add a black eye to her striking visage.
The Bobby Lees had the unenviable task of opening, but the young Woodstock-based quartet was more than up to the task. A selection of tracks from their debut LP Beauty Pageant had already won me over, and then the band segued into a spirited rendition of Richard Hell’s “Blank Generation.” Bliss, utter bliss.
Vocalist/guitarist Sam Quartin doesn’t just sing these songs, she virtually inhabits them. The rhythm section is killer: bassist Kendall Wind sometimes stepping forward to essentially lead the band, drummer Macky Bowman clearly enjoying his role in laying down a ferocious beat. Guitarist Nick Casa made the most of his brief pungent solos, at times unleashing a flurry of notes that reminded me of Mountain’s Leslie West. The Bobby Lees are headlining at Colony in Woodstock on Thursday (June 21) and also performing at the Meltasia festival in Phoenicia on Friday, July 27.
BOSS HOG SET LIST
I Dig You
I Hate You (The Monks)
What the Fuck