The Return of the the Clientele

IT’S something I never expected: Another tour by the spooky, chiming English folk-rock band The Clientele, who sort of broke up a few years ago.

For a handful of reasons — the 25th anniversary of the band’s label (Merge), the reissue of their first LP, some new songs — the Clientele made a small U.S. tour, which on Saturday came through the club I still think of as Spaceland. (It’s now called the Satellite and is still reasonably intimate and with good sound, important for a band as reverb-drenched as the Clientele.)

The show was mostly hypnotic and triumphant. This is a group dominated, on the surfacphotoshoot-bricklane-1e, by the Tom Verlaine-meets-Nick Drake guitar playing of its lead singer — melodic and bizarre arpeggios that seem like they could be developed forever: There’s something mysterious and open-ended about Alasdair Maclean’s playing. At the same time, they have one of the toughest rhythm sections I know, which grounds the songs from being shapeless or jam-band-like.

It was nice to see the place packed with loyal and enthusiastic Clientele-heads.

The band this time was a three-piece. This allowed us to hear the songs stripped down — the friend I was with (a formidable drummer/bassist himself) said he preferred to hear the Clientele, who are often quite lush on record, with a more minimal lineup that exposed the structures of the songs. I must admit, as good as this was, I missed the violin that Mel Daisy provided on their last Satellite show. My ear wanted some kind of string voice.

The other smaller disappointment: They didn’t play one of my favorite numbers, the title track to their last album, Bonfires on the Heath. I spoke to Maclean very briefly after the show and asked him why; he shot back, “Too new!”  (These shows are in part designed to celebrate their early record Suburban Light. My interview on the subject here.)

The best thing about the night was the appearance of a new song. Rumor has it this is one of five or six new ones, a few of which are likely to end up on an EP. Maclean has said he won’t keep the band going unless it seems to be moving forward artistically, which I can respect even though it saddens me to think we may’ve heard the last of them.

But it seems like the Clientele may have a future after all.


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