Despite an intensely loyal and sizable local fan base, Pittsburgh based rockers The Clarks remain one of America's best kept musical secrets. But as Three Doors Down found out recently when upstaged at their own show, The Clarks are anything but a secret in their home city and are liable to out-perform their more illustrious headliners with a winning brand of straight ahead, infectious rock 'n' roll. So it's entirely appropriate that the essence that has made the band one of the biggest live draws on the Pittsburgh circuit is finally captured on The Clarks Live.
Most long term fans will already own this album, but in an effort to raise The Clarks' profile before the release of a new studio album early next year, Razor & Tie has re-mastered the band's self released live effort from 1998 and tagged on three new live tracks from their recent sold out headlining show at Pittsburgh's IC Amphitheatre.
It's those tracks -- "Snowman", "Born Too Late" and "Better Off Without You" -- that really document the band's musical advancement since 1998. Since then, the highly successful union with producer Justin Niebank on Let It Go has really freshened up their sound with a modern edge, and it shows on these blistering live versions.
Packed full of melody and power, "Snowman" sounds superb, whilst "Better Off Without You" (surely one of the best rock songs not to have been a hit) nearly lifts the roof off the arena. The poppier "Born Too Late" completes the trio of material from Let It Go with its clever lyrics and listening to these three tracks, it is easy to understand why some Clarks fans may be disappointed this show was not released in its entirety.
Still, that's no criticism of the re-released portion of the album, as in its re-mastered form, The Clarks Live sounds fresh and provides a great representation of the first decade or so of the bands' fourteen year career. Fame and fortune may have eluded the quartet since they formed at Indiana University in 1986, but on this evidence, the ability to pen catchy as anything rock songs certainly hasn't.
Newer songs such as "Brand New", "Apartment Song" and the poignant "Over Me", sit easily alongside established favourites such as "Courtney", "Last Call" and "If I Can't Have You". Elsewhere, long standing live anthems "Penny On the Floor", "Cigarette" and an outrageous cover of Prince's "Kiss", burst into life in a live setting and it's clear that the combination of vocalist Scott Blasey, guitarist Rob James, bassist Greg Joseph and drummer Dave Minarik has a chemistry and work ethic that makes a Clarks live show a very special experience.
In short, The Clarks Live has all the sweat, energy and atmosphere of the real live occasion as well as the songs and performance of a band at its peak. Clarks fans will be hoping that the next studio album will finally lead to the kind of mainstream commercial success the band so richly deserves.