The Clean, May 30, 2012, The Echo, Los Angeles

Posted on May 31, 2012 by

A London Fireman called Bingo introduced me to the sonic delights of The Clean (and The Birthday Party,  The Swans, and Crime & the City Solution) and I never looked back.  Bingo was a madman, but had great taste in music, last I heard he was a fire eater at Killing Joke shows.  ‘Tis true.

Thus enlightened, I ran like the wind to Reckless Records on Upper Street in Islington and slapped down my hard earned 3 quid for The Clean Compilation (on vinyl).  This record was played over and over again in my flat.  Billy Two can still induce an almost palpable sense of that time and place.  Every last fuzz-tone chord evokes a sense of nostalgia, even from first listen, when it hadn’t earned the right to any such associations.

Last night’s show at The Echo was the first time I’ve seen The Clean and they were wonderful.  It was the first show of their US tour and it was a bit sloppy, but the spirit was there.   The hallmark of The Clean is the odd sense of ennui and sadness that shades even their most upbeat songs.  There is an atmosphere of longing and loss on many of their tracks.  A poignancy that infuses everything, it seems.

They opened with the instrumental “Fish”, which was played a bit slower than usual and was more psychedelic, foreboding and lush for it.  “Point That Thing Somewhere Else” was equally affected by this jet lagged tempo shift and seemed both sad and sinister at the same time, like Sister Ray’s little sister, perhaps.  “Billy Two” was a joy and showed how much their bass player, Robert Scott, truly drives this band with simple melodic phrasing and metronome-like timing.  They didn’t play “Beatnik”, as they didn’t have a keyboard, but compensated for it with a rousing version of the almost ludicrously enjoyable “Tally Ho” (where the main riff was transposed on guitar), which naturally made the crowd go mental.   “Slug Song” and “Getting Older” were more pathos filled than ever.  Truly lovely and haunting.  They played for an hour and covered all the faves.  They made everyone  in the room extremely happy (and sad).

The Clean are a garage band by their own admission: Three chords, three instruments, and at times vague, repetitive lyrics.  At one point, at the end of a song, guitarist/vocalist David Kilgour made a mistake and said, “Oh I fucked up, but we’re a garage band, so…” and the whole band burst out laughing.  Somehow they feel like more, they are more.  The simple structure and careworn catchiness of their songs is sort of deceptive, as something else comes through and transcends.  Something that makes me never tire of hearing them.  Go see them when they come to your town and perhaps you will feel it too.  They should be nice and warmed up by then.

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