Bloody-minded, anti-rock 'n' roll

Clinic have now notched up seven albums worth of bloody-minded, anti-rock 'n' roll, and tonight's gig finds them touring their latest - 'Free Reign', which continues to see them eschew any sort of appeal to the casual observer.

The black material that's draped over the walls and ceiling of this teeny London venue, something of a go-to place for the weird and wonderful, recalls being inside a miniature circus. And when four men dressed as if they're employed by the NHS, with dry ice billowing from behind them, take to the stage wearing surgical masks, things begin to look more like a freakshow. Then again, it’s not as if we expected anything less. In fact, the real surprise would have been if this Liverpudlian four-piece didn't come on stage wearing surgical masks. And therein lies the appeal of Clinic.

Much as these masks protect the band members from natural light, their dedication to consistently deranged sounds - tonight prone to technical hiccups - has shielded them from outside influence.

'Miss You' from 'Free Reign' is an absolutely storming and yet still singularly Clinic track that blossoms live - complete with dense beats, brittle guitars and Ade Blackburn's characteristically pallid and indeterminable vocals. The track seems an older sibling to 'Distortions', a standout song from their debut 'Internal Wrangler', which persuaded Win Butler to invite Clinic to support Arcade Fire on their UK stadium tour in 2007.

Needless to say, much like everything Clinic appear to do, the decision proved to make very little sense; we saw Clinic on that tour and they went down like a lead balloon in the cavernous MEN Arena. But tonight's venue, a claustrophobic room underneath a dank railway arch, is a perfect fit.

Increasingly the band's output now resembles the soundtrack to a nasty overdose of narcotics, favouring analogue synths and '60s, tripped out, droning keyboards over psychedelic garage rock. With its unhinged oboe solo and atonal meanderings, 'Seesaw' is a case in point.

Respite from this neurotic psychosis comes in the form of 'Lion Tamer', from the (relatively) sweet sounds of 2010's 'Bubblegum'. Nevertheless, its shrieking guitar, played over the bones of a spun-out '60s power-pop song, remains exhilaratingly queer. Next comes 'Porno' from 1999's '3EPs'. And if the combined sight and sound of a grown man dressed as a surgeon groaning as if being penetrated doesn't make you feel slightly unnerved then you've clearly spent too long hanging around some of the darkest parts of the internet.

The gloriously titled 'Seamless Boogie Woogie, BBC2 10pm (rpt)' deserves a mention for its name alone. Then comes a "golden oldie," says Blackburn, in the form of a rollicking 'Walking With Thee', at the beginning of an encore which sees Clinic really open fire, perhaps in frustration with the equipment gremlins that came before. 'Cement Mixer,' a mess of stabbing, off-kilter guitars, powerful drums and an assuredly driving bassline, closes the show. As ever, there's no way of knowing, but Clinic should be smiling behind those masks.


Words by Nico Franks

Photos by Mark Ashby


Follow Clash: