Clinic has claimed to sound “like no other band,” but on stage their presence is kind of a throwback to the nineteen-eighties: a mixture of New Wave and Reagan-era punk rock. All four members wear surgical scrubs and masks, along with top hats, clearly resembling the fifties-era spacemen outfits and plastic flowerpot ‘Energy Domes’ of seminal 80’s New Wavers, Devo. And Clinic delivers their songs in rapid-fire succession, with less than fifteen seconds between each number, akin to the set-list plowing of 80’s punk rockers Hüsker Dü. But combined, this is a live presence as unique as Clinic’s sound, and while it can be hard for the crowd to connect with the band, their performance at Gramercy Theatre (QRO venue review) on March 9th, 2007, is not one that will soon be forgotten.
On stage, Clinic can feel very distant from the audience. The masks and uniforms make each one indistinguishable from the other. Lead guitarist Hartley stays for the most part in the back, as far from the audience as drummer Carl Turney. When on keys and Apple iBook, singer/keyboardist/guitarist Ade Blackburn is off to the side, facing the rest of the stage, with only the side of his face towards the audience. There’s a big empty space in the middle when he’s on keys, with only bassist Brian Campbell consistently in the audience’s face. Combine that with a copious amount of smoke machine, and the muted tones of their uniforms (brown scrubs and black top hats), and the crowd could be forgiven for not quite knowing who – or what – they’re looking at.
However, there’s little time to consider such things when Clinic hits the crowd hard with a lightning-quick progression of songs. The country-road backbeat of their music gives them a powerful driving force, and their distorted guitars, keyboards, melodica (a breath-blown mini-keyboard, sort of a cross between a harmonica and an accordion), and vocals are live, much more of a sonic onslaught. Unfortunately, the speed with which each successive blow came meant that, while Clinic played almost twenty tunes, the whole show lasted less than an hour.
Just under half of the numbers that Clinic performed were from their latest album, Visitations, but they started off with the brand new mellow number, “I Ching”. It wasn’t a perfect choice, as it began the show with the audience at already arm’s length. However, it was wisely followed with the first two Visitations singles: the harmonies and ‘jungle drums’ of “Harvest (Within You)” glided the crowd in for the knockdown punches of jangle-rock from “Tusk”. The middle portion of the set was a mix of singles from 2000’s Internal Wrangler (the upbeat “The Return of Evil Bill” and the infectious-beating “The Second Line”), slower numbers (Visitations’ “Children of Kellogg” and 1997’s “Porno”), unusual Visitations sound tricks (the “Charge!” theme in “Kellogg”, the wa-wa guitar of “Animal/Human”), and new pieces (“The Witch” and “Evil Bill”-like “Fortune Teller”).
From there, Clinic went into the evening’s perhaps too-obvious double high-point: Visitations’ latest single, the grabbing and catchy “If You Could Read Your Mind”, and the band’s still-biggest hit to-date, 2002’s “Walking With Thee”, whose chorus of “No!” was easily the top shout-along. Closing with Internal Wrangler’s thudding “2/4” didn’t quite set the right finish, but their encore of Walking With Thee’s rock ‘n’ roll “Pet Eunuch” and 1998’s encompassing “Cement Mixer” ended the night right.
The crowd at Gramercy had a surprisingly strong hipster female quotient, for such a distorted hard-force band, without an attractive frontman (or anyone that could be recognized on the street). Some of them did later complain about Clinic skipping some of their favorite numbers, such as the haunting older singles “Distortions” and “Come Into Our Room” – or anything from 2004’s Winchester Cathedral. But Clinic hit the high notes of Visitations, and utilized some quality older – and newer – material. Now if they could just play a little longer, and maybe have Hartley closer to the front, make Blackburn face the audience, or at least get some brighter scrubs…