The first time someone told me about The Clientele five or six years ago, refinement was the selling point. This wasn't you average pop band. This was a following. An exquisite cause that rewarded the discerning few cultivated to appreciate its recordings.
Like previous favorites of the quiet and shy among us -- Felt, The Field Mice, Galaxie 500 -- the band's style goes a good way toward encouraging this view. The music is soft and whispery with a warm, bedroom sound and a striking capacity to communicate yearning and dread. In other words, everything a mopey, young indie kid could want. Have a look.
So it's easy to go along with the theory. That is until you see them live, as I did last night at Black Cat, a nightclub here in Washington. That's when you find out that The Clientele has secretly been a pop group all along.
I doubt even the most delicate live show could recreate the gentle arrangements and heavily treated sounds from The Clientele's recordings. Real life isn't so tidy.
But during its lively and at times ramshackle performance last night, there was a easy embrace of things alien to the group's early releases. Pop refrains happily leapt from Alasdair MacLean's throat. Songs that lilted up from home speakers like smoke rings easily gave way to towering guitar wank. Lively banter between the group and a sarcastic, if adoring, audience. One guy clapping to the beat.
It was pretty cool. And still soft and lovely when it needed to be. Good show.
Have a listen to one of the new songs from the God Save The Clientele, which is out this spring. It's downright upbeat!