Reviews

The Clientele

Harold Liu
The Clientele

The Clientele

City: New York
Venue: Bowery Ballroom
Date: 2003-09-11

"The Clientele -- they sound like Belle & Sebastian, right?" The Clientele/Belle & Sebastian comparisons bother me to no end, not only because I think the two bands sound so different from each other, but also because it is indicative of the dangers of categorization. Although categorizing music greatly simplifies everyone's life (and everyone does it, including me), it also glosses over the actual music that the band is trying to get across to an audience. Think of it as a Cliffs Notes approach to music. And like your high-school Lit teacher hopefully taught you, Cliffs Notes can never substitute for the real thing. So as I watched the Clientele perform on Thursday night to an enthusiastic crowd at the Bowery Ballroom, I kept a running list in my head, just in case I wanted to write a future volume of Indiepop for Dummies: Belle & Sebastian: songs about boys, bicycles, girls, school, U.S. label - Matador, handclaps, lots of musicians, Hammerstein Ballroom The Clientele: songs about rain, suburbs, Jane, summer, mornings, U.S. label - Merge, reverb, not so many musicians, Bowery Ballroom Traits shared by both bands: moments of lyrical awkwardness, British, earnest, Nick Drake, Felt, corduroy, and probably kittens Based on my wholly objective, impartial list, I couldn't really see any connection. If I had to create a chapter in my book that covered the two bands, I'm not sure what I would title it. Kitten Clash? Corduroy Pop? Earnest, Lyrically Awkward, British Bands (this actually might be feasible, but it would have to be a whole volume by itself)? I think the line in the sand needs to be drawn, starting now. To begin with, the Clientele's musicianship is remarkable. It was amazing how assured they were, how they managed to evoke so much with only three musicians on stage. I can only imagine that Galaxie 500 must have cast a similar spell on their audience way back when. Alasdair MacLean is a compelling guitarist; finger-picking through chiming, intricate lines and ringing open strings, he channels the tasteful, spare guitar work of Richard Thompson and the narcotic dreaminess of Lawrence Hayward from Felt. The rest of the band is equally adept; weaving together a taut, fluid, rhythmic platform for MacLean to take off from. If you were in their air-band, you would have difficulty choosing which air-instrument to air-play. I've seen Belle & Sebastian a few times, and although their performances do convey a certain presence, I can't really recall anything about their musicianship worth noting, certainly nothing that would inspire a bout of air-guitar. In their approach towards songwriting and recording, the Clientele's songs are like delicate set pieces in miniature, intricately layered and suggestive of a world rooted in but several shades removed from our own (their new release, The Violet Hour, attempts to do this across the length of an entire album, and succeeds, for the most part). The band's reverb-laden production lends an otherworldliness that often sends their aural daydreams into extreme soft focus. Despite the oft-cited criticisms lobbed towards them (retro aesthetic cul-de-sac, rehashed lyrical subject matter), it's hard to imagine anyone refuting the sophistication and leisurely beauty of the music. Can too much beauty be a bad thing? Certainly, and the Clientele's live set did occasionally wander into a muddled glow of gorgeous chord-change emptiness, but more often than not the music was pristine and surprisingly sturdy, conjuring images of being escorted past Central Park and staring out the window towards the jeweled mansions on Fifth Avenue in slow motion (and in the rain, of course). Belle & Sebastian's music, while frequently well-crafted, accomplished, and witty, often has the heavy-handed feel of a school assembly performance when heard live. I know this should be a review of the Clientele, not a compare and contrast piece with Belle & Sebastian. I don't have anything against Belle & Sebastian, honest. But the next time you're having a conversation with someone about the Clientele, wouldn't it be nice to hear, "The Clientele, they don't really sound like anyone else, do they?"

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image