To say I was disappointed by the Clientele might be too strong. Underwhelming is more like it. I probably came in with high expectations because I have quite enjoyed the group’s latest album, Strange Geometry (Merge).
Although, to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure how the Clientele’s live show would translate. Strange Geometry is a pretty record: dreamy pop with clean guitar tones and soft vocals. If anything, I took great comfort in one, admittedly superficial, aspect: I really expected frontman Alasdair Maclean to be a waifish, fragile creature. He had a little more heft to him, which I appreciated in a weird way.
Regardless, the group’s live show seemed void of any … oomph. Never have I seen a live show in which a drummer was rendered more passive than this one. Perhaps it’s simply a product of the Clientele’s gentle approach; the drummer changed from brushes to stick with barely any notice. He seemed to play with fragile strength, as if his drums were made of glass and every stroke might crack them.
To make matters worse, the group scuffled with sound issues after the first couple of songs, which resulted in an exchange with the sound man that was borderline snooty. Later, a broken guitar string left a lengthy pause between songs that was a hindrance for a group already struggling to grasp the audience’s attention.
It’s somewhat painful to write these things because Strange Geometry truly is a peaceful record. But after seeing the Clientele live, I get the feeling the group benefits from the production and touch-ups of a studio that a live performance doesn’t afford.
Openers Great Lakes sounded decidedly alt-country-ish, which threw me for a bit of a surprise. Although, I admit to being totally unfamiliar with the group’s history, so for me to put forth any sort of judgment may be unfair.
It’s always difficult to gauge a group when the first time you hear them is live. Our initial read was something along the lines of Jayhawks meets A.M.-era Wilco.