In 39 minutes, the world is going to end. We are all waiting for that end to begin. There’s a sickness in the air, like a germ has been released, and it’s too warm and too crowded and too anxious. We’re a motley crew of anticipators, too sick and anxious, packed in like a holding pen, waiting.
We have waited already through two opening acts. Denali, the first, has a lead singer with a bell of a voice, a sultry ring that seems too voluminous to erupt from such a tiny body. Second in line are the impossibly dull Kingsbury Manx, a sort of shoegazing Go-Betweens on Valium. Both are a far toss from Clinic in sound and intensity. The audience are fidgeting and fretting. We are sick with waiting.
6 Apr 2002: Bowery Ballroom New York
Then finally, Clinic—another four from Liverpool who have evolved beyond fab into frenzied, frantic, furious, phenomenal. They enter the stage discreetly and assume position swiftly, donning their trademark hospital gear. Ladies and gentleman, take a deep breath, because here we go: on an apocalypse of exacting power, un-clocked speed, unspeakable acts. Over the course of 39 minutes, we will be brutally undone and absolutely mystified. It’s the end of the world as we know it. And I feel . . .
Clinic begin the night with “Come Into Our Room” off their 2002 release, Walking With Thee (Domino). On an album that bubbles with paranoid reclusive-ness, “Come Into Our Room” is possibly the most agoraphobic of them all—a knot of tensions, winding and pulsing, with Ade Blackburn’s singing as solemn and self-reflexive as a prayer. In the live setting, though, the number is faster, burning, more communal. The bassline shoots out from Brian Campbell and thrusts aggressively, as his head jerks back and forth like a peacock, balancing him. “It’s wonderful with you,” Blackburn coos, his paper surgical facemask already flecked with sweat. (He’s actually wearing two masks, it seems, and he sings through the space between them.) Carl Turney tinkers with his drums and Hartley diddles a cautionary clarinet. The warmth of the venue feels comforting now, the closeness kind. Clinic are here with us. We are in their room. And it’s more than wonderful. Suddenly, it feels pure.
Of course, the doctors’ scrubs and masks hint at this sterilization, but there are other signals. Clinic play like surgeons, with speed, sharpness, and precision. They condense the chaos of live music down to its most efficient essence, so that each song feels like a shot of pure energy. Hardly more than a few seconds lapse between the end of “Come Into Our Room” and the jolt of the spitfire “Pet Eunoch”, also from Walking with Thee. The lights are going haywire. It’s almost too much to bear. They’ve only been on stage five minutes.
And that’s the course of it: band members running from instrument to instrument to jumpstart songs, lyrics rushed through because the words simply don’t fit at such a driving pace (and would they make sense anyway?), the tempo of every song jacked up three, four, five times. Blackburn leaps to the keyboards to hurl the band into “The Second Line”, tonight’s first track from debut Internal Wrangler (2000 UK, 2001 US, both Domino) and perhaps Clinic’s most well-known song. But did he really use his feet to get there? Somehow it seems like he was transported there or beamed. “The Second Line” thrashes and ticks, driven both by logic and an instinctive sense of rhythm. Though, the entire evening is beginning to feel like a panic attack.
Of all the wonders being revealed tonight, the most unbelievable moment comes midway through the show, in moving from “Walking with Thee” to “The Return of Evil Bill”, two spellbinding tracks from Walking with Thee and Internal Wrangler , respectively. “Walking with Thee” drives the crowd into madness—hundreds of fists pumping and legs shaking, beginning at what could be called dancing but ending in the realm of absolute riot. Blackburn sings “No!” and the revelers scream back at him, over him. People can’t stop jerking and freaking. When the song ends, some are still chanting “No!” and shaking recklessly, as if they’re wound up and the gears haven’t yet stopped turning. Well, they don’t have to: “The Return of Evil Bill” begins almost instantaneously, at a feverish pitch. The room feels ready to implode. I’m surprised nobody passed out.
Blackburn occasionally mutters what sounds like “thank you” between songs; but those utterances, like the gobbledy-gook cascading from his lips as he sings, could really be in any language, or none at all. Coupled with the relentless pulse of their music, burrowing unapologetically into the audience’s collective consciousness, the entire experience feels cultish, subliminal. At the end 39 minutes of this, everything feels broken. This is what I mean by the end of the world: the routine of the rock show undone, its rationale rewritten. And let me tell you: it’s worth waiting forever for something like this.