Let Me Entertain You: Clinic @ Johnny Brenda’s 11.6.10

There are times when I’ll miss out on seeing a band for a valid reason. When Liverpool’s Clinic last played in Philadelphia, it was days before my 21st birthday. Aside from being unable to get in to Fishtown’s crowning jewel, Johnny Brenda’s, I was likely in California at the time of the performance. Shame on me for planning my aging so recklessly; that tour’s parent album, Do It!, became one of my favorites of 2008, and remains my favorite album from the masked quartet. Finally, with a new batch of songs in tow, Clinic returned to that same corner stage this weekend. I was there, valid photo ID and all.

Opening for Clinic this time around was The Fresh & Onlys, a San Francisco-based group that’s just now starting to make waves in the music world. I thought that this new found attention would cause the band to put on their best behavior, but leader Tim Cohen was quick to address the Giants’ recent championship victory over the Phillies. As he said over the boos, “I’m not here to make friends,” using a tone that was only partly joking. Cohen’s instigating chatter should’ve been offset by the band’s performance, but even that struggled to move the crowd beyond casually friendly applause. It would be wrong to blame their attitude for their set’s flatness, but The Fresh & Onlys’ new, Strokes-struck style is just not as captivating as the more ragged edges of their earlier output. There are plenty of bands out there doing what The Fresh & Onlys are doing but, though I’m sure they mean well, they had better be careful about how they carry themselves at this point in their career. One poorly-received quip and they could end up on the wrong side of more than just a jeering.

Once the dust cleared from The Fresh & Onlys’ surprisingly unsurprising set, Clinic had a wide open crowd to fill with their sinister, psych-fuzz nuggets. In addition to their signature cloth surgical masks, the men of Clinic donned busy dashikis, not a far cry from last tour’s Hawaiian shirt theme. The pseudo-mystical bent befits the group’s latest offering; most of the set drew from the new album, Bubblegum, an collection that’s distinctly more atmospheric than previous efforts. Just as they are on the album, “I’m Aware” and “Lion Tamer” were early standouts of the night. Throughout the show, the guys tore through a number of older songs, including “Memories” and the scorching “Shopping Bag,” both from my beloved Do It!. Other selections included still older tunes like “I.P.C. Subeditors Dictate Our Youth” (their first single) and “Distortions” (their breakthrough). In what could be interpreted as a decade-long spell of creative stagnancy (but what I identify as consistent development of a sound), the old and new songs flowed together seamlessly. Earlier songs relied a little more heavily on bassist Brian Campbell‘s ethereal hums and whoops, but it’s Ade Blackburn‘s clenched hiss that forms the center of each song. The tweaks to their strongly rooted style kept the material intriguing through the encore, beginning with the delicate ballad “Linda” and ending with the grinding “Children Of Kellogg.”

Throughout, the masked men remained unsettlingly quiet, with Blackburn simply introducing songs or thanking the crowd for their applause. For those not accustomed to Clinic’s shtick, their impersonality might have come across as, well, impersonal, but when you’ve committed yourself to hiding behind a mask for a living, mystery is something you’ve clearly embraced.

Click the picture at the top of this post to see more pictures of Clinic in concert!!

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~ by E. on November 10, 2010.

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