The Clientele are not a Friday night band. Granted, their songs do often live in the weekend, but they don’t belong to the rollicking, inebriated weekend hours. They’re a reflection of those dimly lit wee hours that divide the days. Like that moment when you’re walking home drunk and delirious at 6 a.m. after a rough night out, and all you can hear are the whooshing car wheels cruising through puddles as their occupants speed off to their factory jobs—when your only companion is the moon, just beginning to fade into the lightening sky.
The Clientele are not a Friday night band, but here they are before a Friday night crowd, and a hyperactive, hollering crowd at that. The audience is rather wound up from the more “rockin’” opening act, which featured a certain member of a certain band called the Sea and Cake, who had brought in a fanbase of post-grad college boy types.
15 Nov 2002: Knitting Factory New York
Throughout the Clientele’s set, the very English trio didn’t feed off the unbridled enthusiasm of their audience so much as tolerate it. Hoots of support were only occasionally met with an obligatory gesture of thanks, a demure “thank you very much indeed.” Otherwise the band seemed rather happily absorbed in their own little mythical suburban world.
The Clientele are obsessed with suburbia. The artwork on their LP Suburban Light featured hazy streetlamps and recycling bins—a metaphor for the ennui of the endless recycling of time, in which things may alter form somewhat, but never really, truly change. The monotony of day jobs and cookie-cutter houses makes the days blend into one endless mundane cycle. The virtue of Alasdair Maclean’s songwriting is that he manages to find the beauty within the banality of suburban life—there’s a cosmic aspect to the everyday, as he sings in their opening song tonight: “shopping lists, ephemera, beneath the silent Kingston stars ”
On record, the Clientele’s music is soaked in reverb and melancholy, and the echo-chamber they build around themselves makes them sound as if they’ve been transported across an ocean and a decade or two. Unfortunately their characteristic aura doesn’t quite translate live. The sounds don’t have that hazy glow without the stacks of effects that mist-ify their records. On stage there’s only a guitar pedal or two, and the music is more straightforward and immediate. Maclean plays guitar with his fingertips, creating a chiming sound that is intricate and melodic. It’s actually refreshing to watch an accomplished guitarist who doesn’t feel obligated to flaunt his talents, rock pose style. There is the occasional distortion-fueled rockout tacked to the end of a song, but it generally only lasts a half-minute before the song quickly slips back into cottony reverb.
The songs usually detail typically English, dreary environments. It rains in nearly every song. And Maclean’s obsession with the passing of time is emphasized by the fact that time is always elucidated in lyrics and titles. There’s “Monday’s Rain” and “Sunday’s dreams” and “6 AM Morningside” and “5 Day Mornings” and “afternoons inside your mothers house”. Maclean is like a playwright constantly setting his scenes, but the scene is always a dark and stormy twilight hour in suburbia.
Clientele songs are languid without being boring, nostalgic without being sentimental, melancholy without being self-pitying. The music is tranquil, but Maclean pushes his voice up into falsetto registers that are really beyond his range. His voice is like a weightless, mercurial balloon, drifting according to its own whim.
Halfway through their set, Maclean introduces “What Goes Up” as “a golden oldie but not in a derivative ‘60s sense.” There’s assumedly a wink behind this comment, since the Clientele owe an obvious debt to the psych-folk of the ‘60s, and in fact their records sound like artifacts from some lost Arcadian England. Maclean sings, “the dreams I’m dreaming of have no beginning or end.” The Clientele truly are lost in time.