A cold, blustery, torrentially wet Wednesday night proved to be an ideal backdrop for a cozy night at the Tractor Tavern. The warmth in the air created by the large crowd, the dim, intimate lighting, and the soothing, sometimes haunting sounds of Clem Snide came together to smear a dreamy, Vaseline-over-camera lens haze on an evening of truly magnificent music.
Despite touring on the very newly released Meat of Life, the focus of the night’s performances was not specific to that album. They spanned a wide range of tracks from the beginning of their career to current, and the selections seemed to be left to the whim of lead singer Eef Barzalay. Many requests were shouted from the crowd, to which he coyly purred, “I am in a certain zone. I can’t be jostled out of it.”
Barzalay holds the attention of his audience the way a 4-year-old would hold a caterpillar. He is gentle and kind, at times fascinated, but may close his hand and crush it, even if he doesn’t mean to, even if he’s only doing it because he LIKES it so much. His stage presence is a delight to observe- he is playful and outgoing, yet has an incredibly self-aware, earnest, “aw shucks” persona. The one-two punch his visceral, achingly beautiful lyrics and tender, vulnerable delivery leave one almost wanting to console him after performing some of his more emotionally wrought songs. Though he played at being blasé from time to time, he appeared entirely attentive and dedicated to what he was doing. In his introduction to “Girls Don’t Care,” he said, with an air of pseudo-snark, “We’re here to give you a top-notch indie rock concert- give you your 12 bucks worth…” then dedicated the song to himself after a tongue in cheek story about his spiritual adviser telling him to “be himself” before playing this show. After adding jammy flourish to the end to the song, he looked up from his noodling, smiled and said, “That was some Frank Zappa shit!” He later apologized for the “emotional hairpin turn” between “Tiny European Cars” and “Don’t Be Afraid of Your Anger,” indicating he understood the evocative nature of his music and the effect it has on its listeners, all joking aside.
Musically, Clem Snide is well-known for its lush, orchestral arrangements and use of brass sections. As this type of sound doesn’t necessarily conform well to the structure of a travelling stage show, the band played a guitar-heavy set. Though the sonic richness of the music got a bit lost in translation, the raw, gritty quality of the live show gave a new gravity and depth to Barzalay’s lyrics, supercharging them with emotion. As a result, there was an element of urgency in the delivery of some of his lyrics. The opening lines of “Denver,” an already exceptionally lovely song, were literally stunning as he barely croaked the lines “Hope that you never forgive me…,” his lean, lanky frame snuggled up tightly against almost comically small guitar. The audience responded with rapt attention, leaning in to hear every syllable and was almost pin-drop silent as he finished. There were at times what felt like detachment from the audience, as he withdrew into the stories he sang- some romantic, some bittersweet, some soul-crushingly sad, as though he had to muster the strength to force them out of himself. Though he and the band appeared to be enjoying themselves immensely, it was made glaringly clear that a happy-go-lucky singer cannot change the nature his songs, nor does it change the fact that to sing them well, one must in a way return to some of the places the lyrics came from, both light and dark.
As the performers and the audience separated, the crisp night wafted in from the open doorway, bringing everyone to. The shift in the energy of the audience was palpable. Some were smiling widely and emphatically expressing their pleasure with the show. Others had a sort of faraway, lovesick grin, expressing their sentiments in sighs. Still others wiped away tears and were rendered speechless. As Clem Snide themselves would say- “Your favorite music, well it just makes you sad.”
Wal Mart Parking Lot
Girls Don’t Care
Tiny European Cars
Don’t Be Afraid of Your Anger
Nick Drake Tape
I Got High
Meat of Life
Fight Song Melodies
I Love the Unknown
New Song- Don’t Wait Up For Me (?) / If It’s All the Same to You (?)
With Nothing to Show for It
2 Tickets to Paradise
Moment in the Sun
Man in the Mirror / We are the World Mashup
Photo Credit: Monica Topping / RadioRadioRadio.com