with the Amazing Royal Crowns and the Bomboras
State Theater, St. Petersburg • 3.4.98
Upon hearing about this bill, I knew I had to be at the show. Despite being a fan for several years, I’d never had the opportunity to catch the Cramps live. Adding to my anticipation was the fact that the Amazing Royal Crowns, one of the best rockabilly acts around, were opening the show. I didn’t know anything about the Bomboras, but I anticipated a memorable night, with at least two bands that would blow me away. Well, I got what I expected, but not quite the way I expected it.
I was puzzled about the banners adorning each side of the stage, depicting Easter Island-styled tiki gods. However, when the Bomboras took the stage, I realized the decorations would be quite appropriate. Go-go dancers jumped up on risers beside each banner as the band kicked into a charged set of amazing surf rock, chock full of spooky organ riffs and lots of twangy guitar. These boys played hard and fast, with energy to spare. The sexy and seemingly inexhaustible dancers seemed to spur the band to play harder and faster. This was especially true of the organist, who was on top of his organ more than he was behind it, lurching back and forth and threatening to ride the damn thing into the crowd. Before the set was over, the band set most of their equipment and the stage literally aflame, and proceeded to play through it! I was thoroughly impressed. The band didn’t need the pyrotechnics and glitter, as they’re talented enough in their own right, but the extra trimmings made it even better. The Bomboras didn’t just play a great set, they put on a show.
The crowd was in high gear by the time the Amazing Royal Crowns roared onto the stage. If the energy level was high for the Bomboras, the Crowns lit a firecracker under it and blew it into the stratosphere! Wasting no time, the Crowns charged into a down and dirty set of punk-edged rockabilly that was pure sweat and adrenaline. The more rowdy members of the audience immediately started dancing in a bizarre combination of a square dance and a pit. This only fed the band’s enthusiasm, and by three songs in, frontman “King” Kendall was stomping on the stage so hard that the microphone stands were jumping, and guitarist Johnny “the Colonel” Maguire was playing so hard he lost his glasses! Charismatic moves like twirling a girl in the audience while still singing on stage only served to enhance Kendall’s charisma; he must have had almost every woman in the audience swooning. By the time they got to the close of the set, drummer Judd Williams had played so hard he’d lost two cymbals, Jack “the Swinger” Hanlon was playing his full-size string bass hoisted on his shoulder, and I thought I’d collapse from exhaustion just watching it all!
After the Amazing Royal Crowns were through, I waited. Then I waited some more. Then I waited even longer. Finally, the infamous Cramps logo was hoisted above the stage, and the band graced the audience with their presence, to an enormous roar of approval. They launched into “Cramp Stomp” and soon had the crowd stomping along. While at first their antics were amusing, it quickly became obvious that the band wasn’t really having fun. They went a long way to put on a show, but it seemed hollow, almost as if their every move was calculated to make the audience cheer. Truthfully, they looked bored, and seemed to expect the crowd to bow before them simply because they are the Cramps. This was especially true of lead singer Lux Interior. He did have some moments of utter charm, like when he handled a mid-set equipment failure by exclaiming “Goddamn machinery! That’s as close to unplugged as we’ll ever get,” then launching into an a cappella “medley of Tony Bennett songs,” starting with “Moon River.” However, most of his antics were either overblown (like his dramatics on “Love Me”) or just plain irresponsible (tossing fans off the side of the stage is a surefire way to get sued, not to mention damaging the club’s mic stands).
While the Cramps still sound great (especially on old favorites like “Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?”) and look fantastic (guitarist Poison Ivy doesn’t age, she still looks fantastic in leather hot pants), the stage show left me cold. By the time they encored with a too-long version of the Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird,” I was completely bored and past ready to go home. Perhaps this stuff should be left to a younger generation of performers. At least in tonight’s example, the newer bands had it all over the old.