What can be said about The Clean? In 1978, they were the seeds of New Zealand punk and the reason for the founding of Flying Nun, one of the greatest record labels that ever existed. They carved out a big sandbox for everyone to play in, and their influence resonated not only in New Zealand but around the world. Not only do bands like Yo La Tengo, Guided By Voices, Sonic Youth, Pavement, and their ilk owe a debt to 'em, but many of today's young upstarts such as Times New Viking, Eat Skull, the Soft Tags, Kelley Stoltz and others have the Dunedin godfathers deeply etched into their DNA.
I've personally witnessed four or five waves of rediscovery of the Clean
in the years since I first heard them in 1986, and the
stuff just continues to educate. Homestead's US issue of Compilation
in the late '80s and Merge's double-disc Anthology from 2002
both laid out a complete rulebook with regard to how a band can be pop, experimental and make live attendees flat out dance.
Nevertheless, if someone else compiles them again in 2015, it's going to
resonate just as strongly. Simply put, the music of the brothers
Kilgour and Bob Scott holds up pretty damn well in 2010 for anyone
checking them out for the first or 5,000th time.
What's the sound? It's completely theirs but draws on everything from the psychedelic paste of Barrett/early Floyd to vintage Velvets propulsiveness to almost everything else under the sun. In the case of the live staple "Point That Thing Somewhere Else," here is a song that levitates any room in a way that makes you swear the band just stepped out of Conny Plank's studio in Germany with all the bulldozing power of Hawkwind (Hamish's drumming is on a trance-inducing par with Jaki Liebezeit easily). Their jubilance at times (the organ-laced "Tally Ho," "Beatnik," "Whatever I Do") makes the Banana Splits sound like Bauhaus while simultaneously exhibiting dark undercurrents, making Bauhaus sound like the Banana Splits. They created both full studio sound and lo-fi recordings before, during, and after the various waves of the 4-track revolution, making both recording modes work with no loss of the band's identity. As far as other influences, you can hear Arthur Lee, bits of Brit folk/prog (esp. in Bob's songs) and the Rolling Stones, among others, but it's never a kind of forced appropriation; while some bands seem to say, "Look at my record collection," in the case of the Clean it's organic, seamless, and inimitable. Though hardly as prolific as The Fall, another maverick group of originality, the Clean have endured for almost as long while maintaining a completely unique, quality stamp that's often replicated but never quite mastered by anyone but themselves. They're also one of the best (and sometimes loudest) live bands I've had the pleasure of seeing.
(Pic from the Cake Shop 2007 Tim Soter) The Clean's modern age has seen them splitting time and hemispheres: David has a reputable solo catalog; Bob has the Bats; and Hamish has been an endearing and enduring fixture in New York City (playing in the Mad Scene and also did some time in Bailter Space). The Clean's recent NYC shows (Bell House, the Chris Knox benefit at Le Poisson Rouge) were a total intercection of old and new fan bases, and this past fall's Mister Pop LP sees them continue the great pop pastiche. Circus ragas ("Moonjumper"), gorgeously hazy sunset anthems ("In the Dreamlife You Need a Rubber Soul"), and the sometimes loose Dada approach to wordsmithery continue right alongside "proper" lyrical forays, and yep, a few Autobahn referential instro moments to boot ("Tensile"). Bob's love of pastoral UK folk has brought some added weight into the overall Clean equation, as does David's Eastern and African guitar jones, though all this has always fit in with and still constitutes the total basis of the Clean's sound journey.
I got to tag along for a few European dates in the Cleanmobile before getting to WFMU's Primavera broadcast, and watched some great shows; Berlin was especially fantastic. But on the big stage in front of the sea at in Barcelona in front of a nice sized crowd, the Clean surfed the soundwaves in tip-top form. We've got the stream right here!
Setlist: Fish / I Wait Around / Drawing to a (W)hole / Wipe Me I'm Lucky / Anything Can Happen / Tensile / Whatever I Do It's Right / Outside the Cage / In the Dreamlife You Need a Rubber Soul / Oddity / Point That Thing Somewhere Else
Some Primavera Youtube clips: