“I was there, man.” People who saw the Quarrymen at the Cavern Club, Pink Floyd at UFO Club, Nirvana at Green Street Station and now fans who had a ticket for the debut show of Dry Cleaning at Crystal Ballroom can all make the same claim. Post-punk is definitely having its current moment now and especially in the UK; IDLES, Wet Leg, Black Country New Road, Squid and others have been clamoring for spots on Sirius XM, college radio stations, and the vaunted Best New Music designation via Pitchfork. Anyone who followed the endless discover and destroy cycle of the UK press via NME, Sounds, Melody Maker, etc knows that the hype machine is real, but in this case it’s entirely warranted and I think they have staying power to rebuff that inevitable teardown.
The most obvious differentiator of Dry Cleaning from their contemporaries is the dry (and by dry, Sahara moisture is the unit of measure) delivery of singer Florence Shaw. Dressed in an oversized suitcoat and white blouse, her long reddish-brown tresses snaking down the lapels, she’s immediately the center of attention while exerting the least amount of energy. She’s often got an expression that’s equal parts bemusement and perplexity. I’m sure the Swedes have a word for it.
The classic grouping of a vocals/guitar/bass/drums quartet means that no one else is there to do any lifting for your particular task, and despite only one readily available record over here, the band’s been around long enough to be a sharply honed unit. The rhythm section of Lewis Maynard and drummer Nick Buxton keep things on track in the best tradition of the Lewis/Gotobed fashion, tightly wound but not choking the life out of the song. Check “Magic of Meghan” for the up tempo version of their skills, and when the band went into another song from their debut EP they could stretch the beats out, slow the breathing, and keep things well mannered.
Guitarist Tom Dowse was the most animated and vocal member of the quartet tonight; during a break while their analog tape machine got sorted, he pointed to the glittery Celtics stickers under his eyes and asked if anyone had heard the result from tonight. (Yes, the Celts beat the Bucks in game 7; earlier tonight, bass player Dylan Allard from Fake Fruit said he’s confident that his Warriors would meet the Celts for the ring). Dancing around the small stage, pushing his SG to bend notes, lashing out serrated riffs – Dowse was fully invested in doing whatever he could to move the songs from being just OK over to the FUCK YEAH territory. Smeared notes and reverb on “Unsmart Lady” recalled some of John Dwyer’s work while “Her Hippo” showcased the best in tones and melody line all night. It’s such an incredible song and hearing it live was pretty much all I could ask for.
Back to Shaw, her delivery is perfectly matched for the arch lyrics she pens. “The last thing I looked at in this hand mirror/Was a human asshole”; “I just want to sexually experiment in a nice, safe pair of hands/Don’t judge me, just hold still”; “I’ve come here to make a ceramic shoe/And I’ve come to smash what you made”. No one else is creating vividly surreal lyrics like this. That the music is a perfect fit is the sort of serendipity that doesn’t happen very often, and to say I’m eagerly awaiting their next record and live show is the understatement of the year.
Opener Fake Fruit played a show with Dry Cleaning in San Francisco last year and dutifully impressed enough to be asked to open this year’s tour. Singer Hannah D’Amato spoke highly of their pre-gig meal provided by Redbones while also admitting that perhaps a bellyful of BBQ wasn’t the ideal prep and also offering some leftovers to intrepid fans after the show. They also mined the mostly minimal parcel of the post-punk landscape and while they were a good match and an energetic band, they didn’t land punches that really connected. Maybe Lithics tracks a bit closer for my tastes but I wouldn’t write off this band at all either, as they do have promise.