The brink of something special. Getintothis’ Rick Leach reports from a sold-out Clean Cut Kid gig at The Magnet.
As soon as we walked into The Magnet on a Friday night it was clear that something was happening. There was a buzz about the place, a tangible air of anticipation so noticeable that you could reach out and touch it. Clean Cut Kid were in town, the gig had sold out, and the small, but perfectly formed Magnet was packed from the get-go.
Spink were first up. A bit of an odd band, this lot, but they did go down pretty well with the audience. Maybe you can always judge how well a gig is going to go when the third and lowest act on the bill is listened to with interest and given a good chance. Spink are a two piece act, keyboards and vocals and play a sort of, well, it’s hard to describe without making them sound too odd. Odd, not in a sort of oddball and arty way, but just odd.
They are different and not what was to be expected. A mix of soulful vocals and Jean Michel Jarre-ish keyboard flourishes threw us back to the 1980’s, The Thompson Twins, M People, Yazoo and all that. A bit quaint and a touch odd therefore, but as Friday night live music goes they were alright. Ending their short set with a cover of White Lines complete with added prog-funk-jazz synth warbles seemed to sum them up. Spink left the stage to warm applause. A fair aperitif for a three-course meal.
Because next up on the menu. and packed with no-nonsense flavour, were Lying Bastards. My goodness, this lot certainly can pack a punch. Imagine, if you will, a beat up 1970’s Chevvy Camaro barrelling down a dirt road across the desert at 120 miles per hour, not stopping for anything or anyone and filled with four pirates playing loud, high-octane rock and roll. Well, you’d be getting close to what Lying Bastards are all about.
It’s always a good sign when you seen a band wrestling with their instruments and winning. Yet it’s not all foot-to-the-floor mindless bar-room boogie with Lying Bastards. They play fast and hard of course, and at times looked like they were ready to burst off the small stage as if they couldn’t be constrained by the venue, but there is a subtlety underneath it all that shows their prowess as songwriters and their ability to fashion a hooky tune that sticks in your head for a very long time. Their latest single single, Head to Tokyo, is just one of their earworm tunes that is excellent and eminently hummable, but with songs like I Don’t Mind, which caused massed clap-alongs from the audience, shows that Lying Bastards have a lot of stuff happening under the bonnet.
By the time their set concluded in an explosion of pure energy, grins and happiness were the order of the day. The band had given it their all and there was barely room to swing an elbow. The temperature was rising, jackets and sweatshirts were discarded and we were built up nicely for the arrival of Clean Cut Kid. We may have all been to there to see them, but Lying Bastards had laid the perfect groundwork.
I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying that not all of the people can be right all of the time, but in the case of Clean Cut Kid it’s just wrong. All of the people were right all of the time, because they were a revelation.
After a short break between Lying Bastards and the entry of Clean Cut Kid (we needed a few minutes to catch our breath anyway), it was as if they were playing a massive stadium show instead of a gig on a Friday evening in a venue with a few hundred people. A packed and crammed gig, but a small venue nevertheless.
Clean Cut Kid bounded onstage to applause and cheers before they’d even played a single note. Within a few bars of the first song, Runaway, fists were being raised in the air in appreciation and you could tell that this was something special. It’s a good song to open with, one which plenty of people knew the words to and were more than happy to sing along with. In fact, it’s so catchy that it’s nigh-on impossible not to.
By the time Clean Cut Kid played their third tune, people were inching their way closer and closer to the stage almost involuntarily, as if they wanted to drink it all in. If there had been rafters in Magnet, then undoubtedly the audience would have been hanging from them, but as it was they were hanging on every note that flowed from the stage.
Whereas Lying Bastards are a rock band with a pop edge, Clean Cut Kid are a pop band with a pop edge, but in a good pop sense. Pop should not be a derogatory term anyway, although it’s too frequently been used that way. After all, hasn’t there been some great pop music? What, for example, is Prince all about? A great pop musician and proud of it. Clean Cut Kid showed us the enduring and timeless nature of pop and the enduring nature of good songs.
And yet, they are more than simple pop songs and Clean Cut Kid were more than that. This was big music, but not in a Waterboys big-music bombastic way. Their third, and what they told us was a new song, was replete with strong harmonies and a narrative flow that recalled The Hold Steady at their finest. A song that sounded like summer and a song, even at this early stage, which sounds vast and anthemic, a story that needs to be told, urgent and passionate. Clean Cut Kid were transcending pop maybe and bringing something different to the table.
It wasn’t just us that could see this; it was evident to the whole audience. As Clean Cut Kid’s shortish set wore on, jaws were collectively dropping. A guitar solo from Mike Hall, lead singer and guitarist, at the end of Brother of Mine was so staggeringly magnificent it was if some sort of Crossroads-deal had been made between him and Prince and the spirit of the Purple Imp was being channelled through the fretboard. This was one of those gigs that you could say that you were at.
They already have a fair old tranche of good songs, Vitamin C, being a prime example, and well known through such routes as heavy play on BBC Radio 1 and BBC 6 Music. It was good to hear them all in this hometown gig. However, these songs go beyond mere parochialism and it’s not only possible, but entirely probable that Clean Cut Kid will break though on much bigger scale and very soon.
After a 30 minute set and a two song encore, Clean Cut Kid left the stage to wild applause. They left us wanting more. Much more. Isn’t that a good thing?
Photos by Getintothis’ John Johnson