Viagra Boys: Electric Ballroom, London – live reviewViagra Boys
Electric Ballroom, London
14 December 2021

From the chugging neanderthal rhythm that kicks off set opener Research Chemicals, to the apocalyptic knees-up that wraps finale Shrimp Shack, it’s one party after another at Viagra Boys’ London gig.

“I never thought I’d be sitting here in London, shouting into a microphone about worms,” admits Sebastian Murphy from Electric Ballroom’s stage.

He’s not the only one. Superficially, at least, Viagra Boys’ rise from the Stockholm punk scene seems surprising. There’s that name. There are the lyrics: Worms does what it says on the tin; one of the band’s biggest songs has Murphy listing various sports. There are the sax solos. There’s the keytar. There’s the sense that they’re just taking the piss.

But their success seems inevitable if you dig a little deeper – or experience them live. The name, it turns out, is a barbed comment on hypermasculinity. Lyrically, subject matter ranges from social conditioning to eviscerations of the patriarchy. Saxophonist Oskar Carls plays like Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis on ecstasy. Elias Jungqvist only resorts to that keytar out of necessity: it’s difficult to lug a keyboard to the top of a 10-foot-high speaker stack. And the dark, satirical humour that underpins everything Viagra Boys do, only makes them feel more dangerous, more unpredictable, more punk.Viagra Boys: Electric Ballroom, London – live review

Not that they need much help on that front. Their gigs are a riot. The fans at the rail crowd surf, fall into circle pits, slam into each other, and, as Murphy puts it, dance for their lives.

The six men up on stage match the energy. The singer repeatedly jumps into the photo pit. He lies down on his side. He gets on his hands and knees. He rides the monitor speaker as if it’s a pig.

All the while, the musicians around him play with the ferocity and intensity the songs demand. But, clearly talented and tightly rehearsed, they’re just as capable of sudden time changes, slowing the pace to let the tension build before releasing it in another maelstrom of sax, synth blarps, and cacophonic rhythms. And they have no trouble launching into extended jams that can evolve into grooves so hypnotic they become almost hallucinatory.

Viagra Boys: Electric Ballroom, London – live review

Yet, no matter how hard and heavy the music turns, it never really loses that Swedish sense of melody. And the band never lose that Swedish sense of humour. For all the aggression in their sound, a Viagra Boys gig is outrageously fun. From the chugging neanderthal rhythm that kicks off set opener Research Chemicals, to the apocalyptic knees-up that wraps finale Shrimp Shack, it’s one party after another.

Highlights are plenty. The raw power of instrumental Six Shooter just keeps building and building and building, taking a brief breather before building some more. The (relatively) restrained Worms, demanded by a fan up front, swings like something Butthole Surfers or Flaming Lips might have dreamed up in the ’90s.

Sports (“Baseball, Basketball, Weiner dog, Short shorts, Cigarette, Surf board, Ping pong, Rugby ball, Wiener dog, Skiing, Down on the beach”) is a masterclass in deadpan delivery and injured-lion-roar from Murphy (sunglasses on, shirt off). And Toad, which cooks up Elvis and The Doors in a meth lab, sounds unlike anything else Viagra Boys make us swallow tonight.

You can find Viagra Boys on their website as well as FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

~

Words by Nils van der Linden. You can visit his author profile for Louder Than War here. He tweets as @nilsvdlinden.

All photos © Paul Grace. For more of Paul’s writing and photos go to his archive. Paul is on FacebookTwitterInstagram and his websites are www.paulgrace-eventphotos.co.uk & www.pgrace.co.uk.

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Once upon a time, in Cape Town, South Africa, Nils was a full-time entertainment journalist. Now, in London, he's just a wannabe.

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