Like most everyone else at last night's show, I had pretty much no idea what to expect from Clues, a Montreal band that made a very deliberate decision to completely eschew social networking sites (that photo is of their self-titled debut album, which comes out May 19 in the US). Which I support-- the fact that Rupert Murdoch owns MySpace just burns me up inside-- but it also means that there's a relative dearth of information about the band. Then again, since we're talking about the project of two people who come bearing some serious indie cred-- former Unicorn Alden Penner (and the only Unicorn not to subsequently join Islands) and former Arcade Fire member Brendan Reed -- spurning MySpace and Facebook seems more like an effective marketing tool to get the Internet buzzing than a righteous stand against all that is unholy about social networking sites. Along with Brendan and Alden, Clues consists of fellow Montreal musicians Ben Borden, Lisa Gamble and Nick Scribner.
Unlike other bloggers who either saw one of the band's handful of shows up until this point (or watched excerpts on YouTube), I really didn't hear much of a Unicorns connection last night. Or, for that matter, an Arcade Fire connection. No, this was something else entirely. Something more psychedelic and decidedly less accessible to mainstream pop audiences than the Arcade Fire and the Unicorns combined-- but just as fascinating, and just as difficult to describe. Though I really liked local opener Iji (they're a great pop band with a surf twist-- I highly recommend checking 'em out), and found the City Center dudes' penchant for sleigh bells and looping pedals intriguing, I found it hard to concentrate, as I was speculating inwardly as to what this mysterious Clues band might sound like.The first couple songs began with just one man-- first Aiden, then Brendan-- singing mournful, mostly incomprehensible lyrics while the rest of the band stayed silent; Aiden played guitar to accompany himself, while Brendan sang without any accompaniment whatsoever. Eventually, those songs opened up into a fuzzy, cacophonous melee of reverb and feedback, the whole band wailing on their instruments with messy precision. I assumed the rest of the show would be similar, but after a song or two of heavy fuzz, the band moved on to cleaner numbers, and those were the ones I liked best.
Though the band's sound was somewhat unpredictable-- which I don't think is necessarily a bad thing-- the music retained those intense peaks and quiet, whispered valleys all the way through. As they did at first, one man might sing a verse alone, sometimes at the beginning, sometimes in the middle of the song; the band would pause, then join in with gusto and resume wailing on each other's instruments. That is: drums (a whole slew of 'em, set up so that two of the bandmates, usually Lisa and Brendan, could pound the skins simultaneously), two guitars and bass. The only instrument that didn't get the hot potato treatment was the trumpet.
At one juncture toward the beginning of the show, Ben Borden (at least, I think it was him, unless I've got my band members mixed up), who'd previously been playing the bass up until that point, had no instrument to play during one particular song, so he grabbed the blanket covering the bass drum, covered his head with it babushka style and started to dance onstage. Then he stood on the edge of the stage and started waving the thing in peoples' faces while gyrating wildly-- specifically, waving it in my face. And someone took a photo of it. If you're reading this, anonymous photographer man, is there any chance I could get a copy of that picture? You can send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.
Anyway, then the guy jumped offstage and started running around the crowd, flailing and throwing the blanket to other folks in the crowd, who would then throw it back to him. Once the song ended, he got back onstage, but not before one of his errant limbs whacked the guy behind me in the face. That was as wild as the evening got. Mostly, the crowd just stood there, taking it all in. There wasn't much stage banter at all, and the set ended abruptly at 11:30 when Alden said, "Well, that was our last song. Bye," and proceeded to exit the stage with everyone else. I left the show not knowing much more about Clues than I knew when I came, but I'd be willing to bet that the hype will only expand outward from here. As I was leaving, I overheard someone talking to their companion:
"Did you like it?"
"Oh, my God, I loved it! I don't even know exactly how to describe what it sounded like, but it was wonderful."