Undercover: Live in China – The Boys (Action Records)

undercover in chinaThe Boys rode the original wave of UK punk in the ‘70s, missed the crest and ended up in the shallows; it wasn’t their fault. They suffered from poor distribution after signing to a second-order record label, but in the end they were far too musical to be lumped in with most of their contemporaries.

The Boys - specifically singer-guitarist Matt Dangerfield - had their origins in England’s most celebrated non-functioning band, the London SS, whose ranks included Mick Jones (later of The Clash) and Tony James (who went on to Generation X.) Both their subsequent outfits and the Sex Pistols made their first recordings in Dangerfield’s rented Maid Vale basement. Talk about being at the scene of the crime. Casino Steel did time in a glam band the Hollywood Brats who almost out-pouted the Dolls.

The Boys formed in 1976 and they made a string of high-energy and tuneful LPs before dissolving. They reformed in the ‘90s around the core of original members Dangerfield, Steel and Honest John Plain. Their songs have been covered by the like sof Germany's Die Toten Hosen and Sweden's Nomads. Their last studio album was called "Punk Rock Menopause". And that more or less brings us up to date.

The Boys had a tour of China booked in January 2015, on the back of a studio LP, but the Chinese Government ordered all tour dates cancelled following an unrelated crowd crush that killed 36 people. Of course they’d already arrived in the country.

Three shows proceeded anyway – at great personal risk to the organisers and carefully promoted under the radar. One gig was in a studio and “Undercover” is the result.

“Undercover” is a glorious live album that packs more punch than a field-full of Tibetan pack mules fired up on home-distilled rice wine. It’s a Baker’s dozen (that’d be 13) songs that sound so alive that you’ll think you’re hearing a bunch of rocking 20-somethings who actually know what they’re doing.

Sonically speaking, “Undercover” tears strips off just about any live album I’ve heard in the last couple of years. The guitar roars and the vocals are right in the middle of the game. If the recording was any sweatier you'd be drenched.  

The Boys wrote (write) anthems and this is a mix of new and old. Early period stuff like “Brickfield Nights”, “Sick On You” and “1976” rub shoulders with the soaring but caustic “I’m a Believer” and “Global Warming” (a paean to partying, actually) like they’re old mates. “Weekend” is not the Dictators song but is on a par – and that’s no small praise.

Like the Real Kids, The Boys can deliver songs with depth and intelligence while not forgetting to rock. “First Time” is one of them and its near-end-of-set placement is near perfect.

This is probably the best advertisement for a trip to China that anyone with a modicum of rock and roll could be exposed to. Hopefully a bit of The Boys rubbed off on the local talent. Recommended without reservation. 

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Tags: punk, clash, live, sex pistols, new york dolls, the boys, generation x, english, china

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