.Viagra Boys Storms Santa Cruz

The Stockholm punk rockers deliver big at the Catalyst

London post-punk rockers Shame was billed as the headliners, but it was apparent who the packed house came to see at the Catalyst last night.

Viagra Boys’ frontman Sebastian Murphy—Bay Area born but raised in Sweden—has so many tattoos it looked like he wore an extra coat of painted leather over his shirtless body that should have restricted his movements—he did mention he had put on some excess weight, but the unpredictable lead singer moved around the stage and slithered on the stage floor with the agility of an eastern European trapeze artist and attitude of Iggy Pop.

Murphy’s presence alone instantaneously set the audience into a sea of moshing, smash dancing and crowdsurfing as the outfit delivered “It Ain’t Nice” and “Just Like You” with a kinetic and furious bliss. 

The Stockholm rockers are rude, crude—and oddly lovable. Photo: Amy C.

Post-punk is commonly ascribed to the group, but their music and persona is more Butthole Surfers meets Captain Beefheart in a dirty port-a-potty at a county fair.

Santa Cruz was definitely behind Viagra Boys as they shredded on funky punk jams like “Punk Rock Loser,” one of the many standouts on their 2022 album Cave World.

secure document shredding

“The band’s onstage banter was surreal and humorous,” one attendee noted. That banter included a lot of talk about shrimp.

Occasionally, the theatrical vocalist grabbed a guitar and used an empty beer bottle as an impromptu slide creating a whirlwind of dissonance that seemed to blend seamlessly with the rest of the band—it was something he’d done before. 

“I thought the crowd was full of geniuses,” Murphy noted with sarcasm after a fan threw a cell phone onstage.

Meanwhile, bassist Henrik Höckert, whose cueball noggin looks like it borrowed a page out of Murphy’s tattoo playbook, attacked his ax with so much intensity the walls reverberated each time he struck a chord. 

Bassist Henrik Höckert making plays. Murphey’s shoes in the background. Photo: Amy C.

When Murphy started to pantomime golf, tennis and baseball—the dude is a switch hitter—the whole room knew what was coming. “Sports,” off 2018’s Street Worms, might be the band’s most well-known song. 

The great thing about Viagra Boys, they don’t deliver facsimiles of their records; they allow for improvisation and much experimentation.

“I Feel Alive” featured an extended sax solo from Oskar Carls. Clad in skintight leather short shorts, he stood about a mile tall on one of the side stage speakers as he blew that alto hard.  

And then, they were gone. The Swedes unleashed sixty nonstop minutes of chaotic harmony, and all that remained were their hot-to-the-touch instruments, several empty beer bottles and a hell of a lot of sweat. 

It was a full house at Viagra Boys’ Monday night show at the Catalyst . Photo: Amy C.

The house lights powered on as the audience chanted, “Play one more! Play one more!” After five minutes or so, it was apparent they were done. 

The short goodbye. Photo: Amy C.

Viagra Boys might want us to think they don’t care or take their music seriously, but this group features some outstanding musicians—weirdos, yes, but talented, very much so. On their 2021 LP Welfare Jazz, they cover John Prine’s “In Spite of Ourselves.” It doesn’t matter whether or not they put an absurd twist on the late great country musician’s tune; the fact that Viagra Boys are aware of the Prine song proves they’re eclectic and somewhat educated.

They might want audiences to think they’re backstage huffing model glue after the show, but I bet the guys get together for a mellow band meeting and go over what they could do better at their next show. Then they probably floss, brush their teeth and get a good night’s sleep in sweaty sheets.

Check out the band’s official video for “Sports.”

1 COMMENT

  1. I’m so glad this article was written because I’ve been scouring the internet for any possible semblance of reliving that magical night.

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Adam Joseph
Before Delaware native Adam Joseph was brought on as managing editor for Good Times Santa Cruz in 2021, he spent several years with the Monterey County Weekly as a music writer and calendar editor. In addition to music, the award-winning writer has covered film, people, food, places and everything in between. Adam’s work has appeared in Relix Magazine, 65 Degrees, the Salinas Californian and Gayot. [email protected]
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