Jof Owen and Pete Hobbs have been away.
Since their 2005 debut The Best Party Ever, the Wendover duo and their assorted friends have toured the States, signed a management deal with Simon Fuller and now, at last, have compiled enough new material to think about putting out a second record.
To hear new songs from it, we find ourselves in Kings Cross. Bar staff aside, nobody is at the Water Rats bar, but the back venue is rammed. Of all things, Puppet On A String blasts out of the speakers and the now seven-piece band take to the stage.
It’s immediately clear that The Boy Least Likely To’s sound has developed. Their previous incarnation, all twee glockenspiels, recorders and banjos, could be drowned out by determined natterers. Now, drums and bass seem more to the fore of the mix, even on oldies like Hugging My Grudge.
Singer Jof seems to have developed some confidence too, repeatedly punching the air and strutting about like Jake Shears had he only followed his Dolly Parton obsession to its logical conclusion. Pete, as ever sharing vocal duties while playing guitar, looks exhausted and in need of a good meal, but cracks plenty of grins as the set shambles through two new songs big on rhythm. A new band member plays electric fiddle beneath a wide-brimmed hat. But there’s still a girl on a synth and a guy on a banjo. It seems like positive evolution rather than revolution.
New single I Box Up All The Butterflies – “we’re giving it away for free!” roars Jof – is a good conduit between material on the last album and the new songs, replete not only with familiar glocks and banjo sounds but debuting the fiddle. Something of a hoedown, in places the rollicking chorus submerges Jof’s breathy vocals, but the soundman sorts it before the end. It gets a rapturous response.
Typical of the heavier sound with synth to the fore, Balloon On A Broken String does a passable impression of Mojave 3‘s recent poppy, campfire sound, with lyrics written from the point of view of a lost balloon which gradually deflates – a bittersweet themology that can be found throughout the band’s work to date. But The Boy Least Likely To Is A Machine cranks the pulsating rhythm up a notch or two further and, of the new numbers, this one is the highlight. “I made a machine called The Boy Least Likely To… I know that it makes me happy, but something about it frightens me,” sings Jof. We can’t imagine what.
Nobody’s forgotten the lyrics to the first record’s songs though. The audience happily fills in the spaces in Spiders while Jof laughs delightedly. Monsters gets cymbal-heavy drum patterns that point it towards the dance floor rather than the mosh pit, but Fur Soft As Fur offers a warm, cuddly change of pace.
Golden oldie I’m Glad I Hitched My Apple Wagon To Your Star mentions “country disco band”, and it seems The Boy Least Likely To have been consciously shifting their sound to encompass disco rhythms, especially in the drums and bass departments while still holding their acoustic, indie-country elements in place. As a result they’re neither alt.country nor indie, but a hybrid offering quite unlike anything else.
Everybody sings along to Be Gentle With Me and, proving this band are still very much in touch with their inner twee, the synth player lobs a few cakes at the audience to drumrolls and laughter. Jof attempts to play a percussive device that looks for all the world like a giant stapler. They’re still an engaging live act – somebody standing nearby laughs that Jof and Pete’s between-songs banter makes this show something like a stand-up night. Whoops and cheers for an encore go unheeded, alas – the only bum note of an otherwise magical return.