The chamber-ambient, indie-pop band, The Clientele who bewitched us so deeply in the 00’s, has reunited again and finally taking full advantage of the fire they were stoking shortly before the pandemic seemed to stop everything. The British band fronted by the smooth harmonizer and guitar virtuoso Alasdair MacLean actually formed way back in the early 90’s, and they became known for a uniquely bewitching melancholy pop that drew comparisons to contemporary dreamy Brit popsters like Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura, and Felt, but also American bands like Yo La Tengo and Galaxie 500, but they still have a uniquely surreal feel, especially in their lyrics that often drew from dreaming visions and many homages to literature and art from the early 20th century. With their lengthy mesmerizing jams, reverb-heavy soundscapes, and MacLean’s distinctively breathy vocals, an effect often achieved by plugging his microphone into a guitar amplifier, they were seemingly poised to take the indie scene by storm, and yet things really didn’t start cooking for the band until they moved from their hometown of Hampshire to London and finally starting releasing the kind of epically hypnotically captivating albums that did get them some of that attention they so richly deserved. Sadly, their royal rein over the dream realm only lasted about a decade, and in 2011 they announced they were going on an indefinite hiatus. I did get to see their first real reunion gig at the Bell House in Brooklyn in 2014, and it was clear even then that their inner flame had been fully relit, and they emerged again in 2017 with a new album and an extensive tour. Now they are back to steal way our melancholy hearts all over again, and we couldn’t be more ready for the wild journey.
The psychedelic Baltimore band The Smashing Times opened the show with a very fittingly wistfully mellow, blissfully cheerful, and charmingly lo-fi sound that did set the mood up for the show perfectly without mirroring the main act exactly. I caught strong Felt accents from their sound, which is funny since that 80’s indie band was instrumental in forming The Clientele as well, but I also caught fragrant whiffs of The Vaselines, The Pastels, and a very dominant scent of Television Personalities, and they all combined in a very sweetly romantic way. This wonderful Janglepop combo is based around the dueling lead vocals of Thee Jasmine Monk and Zelda Anais, who are a wonderfully quirky combo of a guy guitarist and very pregnant tambourine and triangle player, combined with a rhythm section of Ole on bass and Anais on drums, and together they do delight the senses.
I was impressed with the stripped-down quality of The Clientele’s DIY stage aesthetic; with not even a backdrop with their name hung behind them to distract you from the audio stimulus you are being taken away into the astral plane by, and that proved to be the perfect absence of stimuli to befit the moving musical structures they were building on stage. It was just the trio of MacLean with original bassist James Hornsey and drummer Mark Keen spinning out a gloriously seductive sound for all the fans to enjoy, and that was all the distraction you needed as the music lulled you into a dream-like state. Alasdair did stop mid-set to reminisce about the first time they toured the US, and much like on this tour, they played here right after Boston, and he explained how they found this city so much more welcoming and happy, which got lots of chuckles from the audience, but also how New York played such an important role in their history as a band, and he wanted to thank the Big Apple for being their rock from their very early days. They just released their first album in six years I Am Not There Anymore, which is an expansively diverse effort with a lot more Prog-like complexities than their older works, and they played quite a few songs from it including “We Could Walk Together,” “Claire’s Not Real” and “Garden Eye Mantra,” but they did break into lots of classics like “Everyone You Meet,” “Since K Got Over Me,” “Reflections After Jane,” and, of course, their love song extraordinaire “(I Can’t Seem to) Make You Mine.” I will admit there are many songs I would have loved to hear them play like “Lacewings,” and honestly they could have played for many more hours, and I would have remained in a blissful state of spaced delight for however long they played.
Words/Images: Dean Keim