Brian Turner's take on The Clean in New York!
(Photo via Andrew Gardner)
WFMU's wonderful music and program director, Brian Turner, attended the four recent shows by The Clean in New York.
Bottom line: only a band as great as the Clean could get me in an airless, hot, basement room for three nights straight (and over to Hoboken for another). For years, this band on record has embodied everything that is good in music and live their power is a whole other amazing deal. For every wave of musical/stylistic fetishism that has swamped popular and underground culture: krauty this and that, 60's evocations, loose 80s Rough Tradeisms, all have been natural/inherent throughout with Mssrs. Kilgour, Kilgour and Scott. They absorb and filter it all, and it comes out as organic/natural as possible yet distinctively stamped. In fact, call me nutty but the night before the Cake Shop shows I ran into David and Robert at the Tinariwen in-store at Other Music, and listening to the Clean the next night I'll be damned if I didn't hear the whole psychedelic electrified Tuareg sounds happening in David's axewielding as well, but you know it's *always* been in there all along.
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The Clean can seamlessly drift from gentle pop song into obtuse musical sketchery into titanic jam without so much as a blink of forcedness. Where "Point That Thing" was a bulldozer the 1st night, it didn't quite levitate as much on night 2 (in fact, David was cracking Robert up by throwing the song's intro figure into the middle several times). But when the moment hits, it's not always in the place it's "supposed" to be. They can swell up in songs that they may have played straightforward the night before; Hamish takes his motorik drumming up to another gear, Robert locks in, David takes off and totally utilizes his twin ampage to literally make a wall of guitar. The next night some songs were completely 180 opposite, but the openness to allow songs to flow as the moment dictates and that's another reason I love the Clean and all it stands for.
The three nights at Cake Shop brought varied set lists, certainly including the classics. While tunes like "Tally Ho" and "Beatnik" got the audience especially happy (not to mention the nearly-in-tears openers Times New Viking alongside the stage Saturday jubilant upon hearing their organ employed when the Clean's crapped out) there was lots of Vehicle stuff ("Big Cat" night 1!), "Oddity", a great assortment of Hamish-sung tunes (closing with "Safe in the Rain" often) and relatively newer tunes that sounded awesome. Night 2 even saw a wiry version of the VU's "I Can't Stand It" and you can't help but realize what a rich, solid, body of music this band has created since the early days. They certainly ain't as prolific as, say, the Fall, but like them, they delivered throughout the timeline and they are equally worthy of the endurance-times-quality medal without fail. Though, we were a bit worried about David on night 3 who looked ready to drop from the lack of oxygen down in the cave that is the Cake Shop. But there was some backup as a feisty-looking, middle finger extending Richard Davies (Cardinal/Moles) came out and slung axe and guested on vox for "Getting Older".
Great venue to see them though, totally gave the vibe of watching your fave band in an inclusive party room atmosphere; a few nights later at Maxwell's they fronted another packed but more manageable room of Yo La Tengo Hannukah show fans. I walked in late, only to see three people on stage who looked like Primal Scream thus cursing myself thinking I bought a ticket for the wrong night. On closer inspection, it was the Clean, in wigs. David in an Emo Phillips style, Hamish looking like Brian May behind the drums, and Robert somewhat sporting the Joyce DeWitt look. David also was in some kind of character, and one with Tourettes at that; grumbling between-song obscenities left and right to Hamish ("stop fucking playing fucking jazz drums"), Robert ("play the fucking organ better"), his guitar ("I'm not fucking tuning this fucking thing") and the audience ("fucking New Jersey") who may have been somewhat puzzled. Missed the finale of the Yo La set to get a bus back to the city, but understand encore was Clean-inclusive and offered up the Dovers-via-Pop Art Toasters cover of "What Am I Gonna Do." Hope we see a US return soon.