Clinic play Austin: 2005

A couple of years ago it became known that Radiohead supposedly had Clinic as their favorite band, and by the time they played a well-publicized South by Southwest last year, the hype was downright unseemly.  Their spare, haunted sound prominently featured atypical instrumentation such as the melodica, a mouth-keyboard that sounds like a harmonica/accordion hybrid. Not easy to describe, perhaps a later-period Joy Division mixed with Farfisa-organ-style 60’s garage rock?  I walked out impressed, and the critics and scribes were aflutter over the album Walking With Thee, but the buzz didn’t translate into massive airplay or units moved at Sam Goody’s and Wal-Mart etc.

Clinic, touring behind the new record Winchester Cathedral, are a four-piece from Liverpool who dress-up as doctors…kinda hokey, but who cares when a fair amount of the time they do distinctive, creative, and vaguely arty music that is unlike anybody. The drummer made the most memorable sounds, his unusual approach uses fewer pieces of the kit than anyone in recent memory, and as a consequence his spare, powerful, energetic beats stand out.  But Clinic as a whole has a weakness for Standard Retro-isms heavily drawn from 60’s classics and 70’s Big Guitar Rawk. Which is to say, exactly the same influences as half of everyone else…and so half of the time they sound no worse (but not better) than 87,547 less well known rock bands who never transcend their love of the Stones, Velvets, Bowie, Ramones, all the usual suspects (if you are reading this and in a band, if that describes you, please do something different!).

I was getting a little saturated with 90 minutes of Clinic and their reverence for the Glories of Rock History, thinking about what’s back at home in the fridge, when something unexpected happened…a song titled “2/4”. The drummer started a very fast beat (just like the rather conformist hardcore band I used to be in) but again only on maybe one cymbal, and I think on two other pieces in the kit.  Where most bands would bring in guitar, and then the singer whining about a girl or bitching about religion etc, the naked beat persisted, energetic but minimalist, and excitement was building in the crowded hall. At last the Farfisa kicked in and broke the tension, and for a few minutes Clinic had their own original hybrid style going, stealing the energy from hardcore punk rhythm and making it anchor psyched-out 60’s organ blasting out waves of multi-colored chords…wow!  More! But this last burst of energy ended the set, and more then redeemed all the unoriginal songs. Clinic is worth seeking out, and if you are in a punk band you should be forced to listen and defend your songwriting before a panel of snide, passive-aggressive, know-it-all rock-nerds and DJ’s. When they abandon formula, Clinic has a real spark of originality, and they prove that creative rock lives.

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