Monday, February 10
You hear The Clean is playing – and it’s just down the road from you (also it’s just $30) and you go. That’s what you do. Because this band means the world to you. And, more than that, far more than that, you kinda figure this band means the world to pretty much everyone else that’s attending. So you get your ticket and you’re there.
You only get to see The Clean every couple of years or so, they’re – in that sense – not a real band. (They’re unreal! It’s often surreal…) They come together when they’re all in one town. They pick up the sound where they left it. They are, a little bit, like that oft-quoted riff on The Fall, always different, always the same…
But to see The Clean at Puppies seemed even more special – last time you saw them was in a big booze-up tent as part of Homegrown. They were amazing. And you were dazzled, side of stage, caught somewhere in the space between Hamish Kilgour’s tom thwacks, the thrum of Bob Scott’s bass and every not-quite-country-but-could-be/sound-of-the-ocean/post-early-VU-“ostrich”-guitar trick and lick that David Kilgour nonchalantly shrugs off.
And that’s a great place to be. You’d live there if you could.
So it’s funny that on this night when they shoulder their equipment and shrug off the hero worship from a crowd clearly besotted – instantly (already) – with what’s about to happen (that is to say: before it’s even happened) we are, in a way, right back to where you last left them, or when you first found them. Three guys that make a noise that sounds a little bit like a lot of things but unlike anything else/anyone else; they make the music you’d like to make, and might like others to make. And they do it all so casually.
Because they’re not really a live band – not a regular gigging band – they still don’t quite know how to end any of their songs and prefer to not even start most of them, they simply arrive right in the white-hot middle of each sliced-off Duane Eddy/Sterling Morrison/Peter Walker guitar part, be it Point That Thing Somewhere Else or Fish.
But they are so much a live band as to be the only live band that matters – a band that really comes alive on the stage – a band that moves intuitively through each song, the slightest mistake simply becoming a quirk, a fresh lick of life on an older tune. Something to spot to remind you that each performance is a new one, even if it could all be a continuum that started in the mid-1970s…
And so then when they play In The Dream Life U Need A Rubber Soul from 2009’s Mister Pop you realise it could be from back at the start of the band’s life in 1979 or from their next new long-player, whenever that might arrive. Such is the timelessness of these songs and this sound.
It’s a wonderfully ramshackle night and includes an eventually very-prescient version of Getting Older. You see the band played it as original member Peter Gutteridge stumble-ambled to the stage. The “Gutt-man” was on holiday with the promise of a walk-on and though he looked like an advert to stay clean – if not stay in The Clean – he played with that same wild-frenzied sound, as if he hadn’t so much picked up a guitar as grabbed onto a thunderbolt of sheet-metal lightning, draining extra fuzz from it as he pinched down and drowned out his own frail voice with more and more and even more guitar noise.
Just to see him on that stage – with that band – was enough. To hear him a bonus. Just to see him there was, I guess, a bit like the Floyd of the mid-70s if welcoming Syd Barrett to the stage, or the Fleetwood Mac of the same time announcing that Peter Green was going to let loose some of the old juice.
You hear The Clean is in your town. And you make plans to go. And then you go. You could never have known you’d get moments from The Great Unwashed too, from the band with its now sorta-exiled founding member – enjoying a late run at issuing that crazy-glorious sound of his, basically circling Kilgour’s sketches with scribble-patterns of razor ribbons.
You only get to see The Clean every couple of years and you hope they’ll play Tally Ho! And you know they will – and they do. You don’t know that they might play a stonking-good cover of The Velvet Underground’s I Can’t Stand It – and that’s one of many reasons why whenever this band is in town you go. You go. And you celebrate. And you see everyone there just caught in the sway of this band’s unique sound. You see everyone there escaping to a bliss that only The Clean can bring. In only the way they can – as if they’re as surprised as you by the outcome, as if they didn’t plan a thing and wouldn’t want to because they don’t know how to.
That’s the true magic. The mess. The nostalgia. The feeling that seeing The Clean in Puppies in 2014 is kinda like seeing them at The Empire Tavern in the 80s, or in the 1990s – or whenever and wherever you next get to see them. Because see them you must. Always. And forever. The Clean.