- The Bobby Lees.
The Bobby Lees will perform a live-stream record release concert out of Bearsville Theater on 8/7 at 9pm. $5 virtual tickets available online.
Inside the tiny back room, the stage is set so low that the people packed right up front might just topple over onto it. They're bouncing off each other like errant molecules, doing their best to match the energy of the music. On the bandstand, the gangly lead guitarist is squeezing out squeals from his Stratocaster while the rhythm section, two swirling masses of dirty blonde locks, bashes out the frenetic sonic foundation. The androgynous vocalist/rhythm guitarist, a jittery jumble of nerves with downcast eyes, is pulled along by the performance, emitting lyrics that are half-shrieked and half-grunted. It's a nervous breakdown set to song—and fun as hell. The band is The Bobby Lees, and the scene described took place at Tubby's in Kingston early this year, in the pre-pandemic times. Unfortunately, it looks like it could be a while before it happens locally again.
"We were supposed to play South by Southwest in March and start a longer tour in May—and then everything got cancelled [because of the virus]," says singer Sam Quartin, whose Woodstock-based group, at the time of this writing, was about to test the waters with dates at recently reopened Buffalo, Indianapolis, and Columbus, Ohio, venues. "We debated doing shows again this early, but we talked to the club owners and they say things are going well so far. They're being very strict—only allowing 25-percent capacity and people have to wear masks. It's kind of an experiment. If it feels weird, we won't do [the upcoming tour]. It's mainly about promoting the new record."
That record, the band's second album, is the visceral Skin Suit, which was produced at Woodstock's Dreamland Studio by blues punk legend (and recent Hudson Valley transplant) Jon Spencer. "They are so young and yet they rock so hard," raves Spencer. "Sam's stories are gripping—this is heavy writing coming from a very private place. They came to the session extremely well prepared and worked like hell, always up for any suggestion or challenge."
Quartin, an actor whose CV includes indie films like 2016's Let Me Make You a Martyr, 2019's By the Rivers of Babylon and Run with the Hunted, and the forthcoming Body Brokers, began the group in 2016, which also includes former Rock Academy students Nick Casa (lead guitar), Kendall Wind (bass), and Macky Bowman (drums). The quartet debuted with 2018's Beauty Pageant, a collection of songs Quartin had written prior to their formation; since then, the Bobby Lees have hardened into a proper unit via touring and opening slots for Black Lips, Boss Hog, the Chats, and Murphy's Law. Quartin maintains that the creation of their raw, bluesy garage rock has become more communal.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the Stooges' landmark sophomore album Fun House, and it's been nearly 45 years since the Ramones and Patti Smith launched their debuts. Taking stock of that history, what's it feel like for Quartin and her cohorts to be keeping the punk form alive in 2020? "It's incredible to be part of this amazing counterculture," says the singer, whose musical flame was sparked by a film her dad showed her of punk forefather Little Richard. "When it all goes right, you're able to connect with the audience and make the homogenized world go away. Right now, it feels powerful enough if you just can get someone to stop looking at their phone for a while."
Skin Suit is out now on Alive NaturalSound Recordings. Thebobbylees.com.