Clean Cut Kid, Zuzu, Man & The Echo, L U M E N at Liverpool Music Week: Arts Club, Liverpool

Clean Cut Kid

Clean Cut Kid

Clean Cut Kid triumphantly return to Liverpool for Liverpool Music Week and Getintothis’ Rick Leach is there to welcome them back home.

It seems like a long time, relatively speaking, since Clean Cut Kid last played their hometown; way back before the summer.

Although they popped back in June and July for two outdoor shows at the International Mersey River Festival and LIMF 2016, it all felt a bit like a fleeting visit.

Since their last full show at Magnet in March, they’ve trod the boards across the country and honed their chops at numerous festivals up and down the land, including a stand out performance at Glastonbury. With all that frenetic activity under their belts, they were back home to headline a Saturday night Liverpool Music Week performance at a long time sold out Arts Club.

There was a palpable air of anticipation at the venue. Something special was going to happen. This was going to be one of those nights. Small and perfectly formed, The Arts Club felt like a venue that was going to burst at the seams, somewhere that was now becoming too small to contain everyone who wanted to see Clean Cut Kid’s unique and effervescent brand of spiky yet melodic pop.

With three support acts on the bill, we had a bit of a wait before we could see Clean Cut Kid, but we had a feeling that it wasn’t going to be time wasted. It was all quality stuff.

First off was L U M E N and just like Clean Cut Kid, a GIT Award 2016 Nominee. Something therefore you can rely upon. L U M E N didn’t let us down. Fragile and delicate pop songs with a hint of psych-just a touch, but discernable under the surface-spun and weaved like the first touches of winter frost.

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L U M E N is Liam Brown, an 18 year old with an electric guitar. That’s it. Just a young man with a guitar. But a writer of songs that belie his tender years and an ability with his guitar and electronic effects to produce sparkling and glittering tunes that make you wonder what he’ll come up with next. He finished a short 25 minute set with his song Seabirds, evocative and pastoral and left the stage  with a wave to an appreciative crowd that was getting bigger and bigger by the minute.

Hot on the heels of L U M E N we were treated to Man & The Echo. This four piece are a lot tougher than L U M E N, but only in a mid-eighties jangly pop way. They reminded us very much of later Orange Juice, that mixture of post punk pop and blue-eyed soul. There’s always a market for that sort of thing and their new single, Operation Margarine, certainly fitted the bill and went down well with the crowd. Distance Runner is a song which is crying out for the addition of a full brass section; displaying very adept Muscle Shoals/Hi Records/Willie Mitchell vibes. They are very likeable, very listenable and very polished.

You do get the sense however, despite all the obvious care and thought which has gone into Man & The Echo’s songs and overall live performance, that just maybe too much thought and care has been put in. It seemed a tad studied. Maybe they need to loosen up a bit. Let things flow.

After a very short break we were treated to Zuzu and treat is a very apt way to describe them. They were blindingly good. Feisty, funny and kicked things really hard as the Arts Club filled right up. Where Man & the Echo harked back to the mid eighties, which is all well and good, Zuzu sounded and looked like the future.

They’ve moved on a bit since this writer saw them third on the bill supporting Courtney Barnett at the O2 Academy at the back end of 2015. There they seemed a bit tentative and out of their depth, although their power punk tunes had a certain something that you couldn’t quite put your finger on. There was a sense of promise and less than a year later, they have delivered on it in spades.

Zuzu played a short 25 minute set which left us wanting to hear much more. Scuzzy guitars, boppy-as-fuck tunes, and melodies that make you want to sing along with at the top of your voice. Anyone who can title a tune Going Back to My Mums and make it sound like the bastard son of Duane Eddy and The Lemonheads is alright in our book. Keep an eye open for this lot; great things lie ahead.

By the time Clean Cut Kid got on stage-with the proggy introduction of dry ice and a swirling light show the place was rammed and everyone was on the edge of their seats. Well, there aren’t any seats at the Arts Club but you get our drift. The place was buzzing and Clean Cut Kid didn’t disappoint.

It was a homecoming gig that was for sure.

For a band that hasn’t released an album yet, it was like a greatest hits show. They opened with Runaway, a great, great pop song and one which got everybody singing along from the very start. Quickly moving from Stay into their new single, Make Believe, it was clear that they are a band that has something special about them, something that draws people in and brings people together. They are already adored and treasured and it’s a testament to the power of pop music – and that’s what Clean Cut Kid make, outstandingly great pop music in the same way that Brian Wilson and Phil Spector and Berry Gordy did – that it did and can still provoke such strong emotions.

You sometimes have a sense of dread when an artist announces they are going to ‘play a brand new song.’  There was none of that as Mike Halls led the band into a new Clean Cut Kid track, Beat of My Heart. They may have spent virtually all of the summer playing in tents across the U.K. but they have had time to pen a future classic in this song, one in which the vocal interplay between Mike and Evelyn Halls came to the fore and showed a new depth and tenderness that heralds an interesting direction for the band.  

 By the time they kicked in with Brother of Mine, we were all smitten. A tune that’s ripe for America, it’s like barrelling down a desert road in an open-topped Chevvy under big American skies. A Nils Lofgren-type guitar solo from Mike Halls was so much like Lofgren at his Neil Young best that we wondered for a second if they’d dragged a special guest from Canada onto the stage. It was so good that it produced a spontaneous cheer midway through the song.

It was with a certain sad poignancy that as we watched hands held high and fists pumping in unison in the crowd, we realised it might be one of the last times we’d be able to see Clean Cut Kid play somewhere so small and intimate. Bigger things and bigger venues surely beckon.

Yet there was no time to be too tearful. Clean Cut Kid certainly weren’t. Everyone was grinning and smiling. Saul Goodman, the bounciest bassist in the world, had a permanent beam on his face for the whole set and that genuine happiness was transmitted to the rest of the band and the crowd.

‘It’s amazing to be home in Liverpool. Just boss.’ said Mike Halls to loud cheers and for once, such stage pronouncements were heartfelt.

They wound up their set with the still irresistible Vitamin C and we knew as we sang and clapped along that it was good to have them back again.

Welcome home.

Pictures by Getintothis’ John Johnson