Mere minutes into the set, he throws himself on the floor, white suede dress shoes flailing, in a spectacular display of rock 'n' roll grand mal. The crowd backs up, bristling with confused looks. But it's not long before the witnesses are also seized by the "just gotta dance" reflex. Billy Boloby's catchy, feverish brand of rock 'n' roll has been known to cause convulsions, hypothermia, even spontaneous combustion. And that's on a bad night. The lad from West Palm Beach has created an arsenal of shenanigans to spice up his live shows, and folks can't help but take notice.
After stints in the Happy Accidents and the Mute-Ants, lead singer Billy Boloby (pronounced buh-LOW-bee) started his own band in early 1999. A three-year period of writing and rewriting songs prompted Boloby to abandon his guitar and focus solely on singing. But, he insists, an ambitious vision guided him: "My reason for starting this band was a combination of my complete and utter discontent for the vanity and pretentiousness that is popular culture and a need to find a legitimate vehicle for acting as out of my head as possible."
The band played its debut show in February of 2001 as a three-piece, Billy Boloby and the Bad Priests, and a crowd at Respectable Street witnessed one of its first theatrical endeavors. Boloby sported a Southern Baptist preacher getup and shouted inanities. "On stage, you have license to do anything," he explains. "I couldn't go up there and just look pretty, like something out of a magazine." After playing a series of gigs around West Palm, the lineup solidified by May 2002.
The addition of drummer-turned-guitarist Marvin Holiday allowed Boloby to put a proverbial tent on the circus and follow through with his mission of losing his mind without dropping his guitar. "I'd known Boloby for years through mutual friends and the scene," Holiday says. "I already knew his influences agreed with mine, so one night I told him that I should play rhythm guitar. I was ecstatic because they were doing exactly what I wanted to do." With Gary Lee Harris on drums and Herman Von Uberstein on bass, they were on their way. The band played its first show with Holiday as the Palm Beach Snot Club, an ingenious incarnation conceived to poke fun at the snooty, snotty upper crust of Palm Beach society. Weeks before the show, Boloby and "yacht captain" Harris infiltrated clubs across Palm Beach and Broward counties to pass out fliers, attracting blank stares and the all-important "nod and smile" response.
"We like that element of creating situations which make people curious," Boloby says. "Obviously we're focused on songwriting, but we also try to make shows inclusive and involve the entire audience. It's a very atmospheric and theatrical event." With that ideology in mind, the band hatched a plot to create a show by the people, for the people. Billy Boloby and the Ice Cream Socialists made their debut at Soundsplash in Lake Worth and, in true socialist spirit, served ice cream to the crowd. This move, not surprisingly, turned into a "complete mess," but it still remains one of the band's most talked-about shows. "We play a lot of venues, like Dada in Delray Beach, where people wouldn't normally get to see us," Boloby says. "I always half-expect people to walk out once we begin. We try to reach beyond musical barriers and appeal to people on a human level, hence some of the absurd themes we incorporate. Our fans range from [age] 14 to 70, the latter probably due to failed hearing aids."
To add to the confusion, Boloby's recent show at Dada turned grisly. As the singer ran out to the parking lot to grab the set list, he was struck by a white Saturn. Boloby was carried back into the club, where an off-duty doctor enjoying an after-work beverage just happened to be in the audience. He was able to revive Billy's failing heart with a Fender amp and Von Uberstein's pair of jumper cables.
Theatrical dalliances aside, Billy Boloby's sound is not easily defined or categorized. Take a few R&B riffs, throw in some jerky punk rock, and add a bit of melodious pop... Trying to describe it is almost missing the point. "The four of us have a harmonious songwriting attitude," Holiday boasts. "We don't carry around a lot of ego. No screaming matches, no pranks. We're painfully honest with each other about what works and what doesn't." And perhaps it's that unwavering camaraderie that helped produce songs such as "My Love Is (Just a Corpse)," "(Yeah He's a) Bad Priest," and the twitchy crowd favorite "Better Wait." Plans to put out a recording are in the works, but for now, the band is content to keep its adoring cadre of fans satisfied with props, faux facial fur, and most important, a frenzied dose of good old rock 'n' roll. Madness? Hysteria? Costumes? Yes, it's all true.
"The scene is very warm right now," Holiday says optimistically. "Our fans and the other bands we play with have a good attitude and are very, very supportive. We feel fortunate to be doing what we do."
In his 1989 book Lipstick Traces, Greil Marcus chronicles the rise of punk rock from the ashes of Dadaism in the early 20th Century. The Dadaists' use of music as theater, in incarnations such as Cabaret Voltaire, woke up a generation plagued by normalcy and routine, as did punk 60 years later. Billy Boloby may not call themselves Dadaists, but their music can certainly be defined as rock 'n' roll theater. And word has it they may finally unveil their choreographed dance routine sometime soon.
"Ideally, you won't know what to expect of our live shows," Boloby says. "We try to do something different each time, whether the band brings me back from the dead, we're kidnapped by an evil scientist and replaced by a robot, or we're hosting a wild Ice Cream Party for the People. Even when we don't come up with a feasible idea, we make sure to turn everything up a notch."
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