Live Two Nights Ago: Clinic/BBQ

The world needs more bands like Clinic. Or maybe it doesn't. If there actually were more bands like the Liverpool quartet, which played a fantastic show at the Black Cat on Wednesday night, perhaps we wouldn't be able to fully appreciate what a great little act they are.

Clinic's easy to take for granted, mainly because their sound hasn't changed too much over the course of their decade together. As I noted on Wednesday, there are plenty of variations within that sound, but you could make a Clinic mixtape of any random dozen songs and it would probably sound as logical as most of their albums. I was very into the band's early material (a self-titled singles compilation and 2000's "Internal Wrangler"), pretty into 2002's "Walking With Thee" and then started to lose interest. I decided to check back in with this year's "Do It!" and found that Clinic still sounded like Clinic, and that was a very good thing. There's something to be said for band's that has an immediately identifiably sound but manages to continuously find new ways to keep things interesting without changing what you like about the band. Spoon comes to mind as a similar act.

For Wednesday's show Clinic played "Do It!" from start to finish for the first half of its set. The band members all wore their trademark surgical masks and plowed through the songs with a refreshing sense of purpose. If you're a fan of efficiency, this was a show for you. Short, potent songs with propulsive rhythms, no needless chit-chatting and even Blackburn's regular shifts from organ to guitar never took more than a few seconds. Not only does the band compose catchy and slyly funky tunes, but they use some of the best sounding instruments to do so. Blackburn's organ was thick and piercing (think the Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray"); Jonathan Hartley got a beautiful, echo-y reverb from his guitar and, of course, melodica.

The highlights were plentiful. "The Witch" employed the band's favored beat, a fast-paced rumble that doesn't inspire dancing as much as lurching. "The Return of Evil Bill" showcased Hartley's sharp guitar leads and some melodica greatness. "Walking With Thee" was a hard-charging, organ-fueled blast, and "Pet Eunuch" sounded like a heavier and more art-damaged version of early Wire. After the 20-some song, hour-long set a friend said, "It was a Clinic show." That may not sound like high praise, but that's sort of the point. It goes without saying it was very good.

Opener BBQ (aka Mark Sultan) helped make this the best double-bill I've seen in a good while. Sultan is basically a one-man, old-time garage rock party. He sits on a chair in the middle of the stage, his left foot pounding on a snare drum, his right on a kick drum while he bashes out power chords at a very high volume. With such a rudimentary set up there's not much variety in what he plays, but for half an hour it was great fun. Everything basically sounds like the Ramones version of "California Sun," so, y'know, pretty awesome. Take a listen to "Mortal Man" and "Something Wrong" and you'll get a good sense of the fun that BBQ cooks up. Another way to tell he was great was that multiple members of the Black Cat staff could be seen visibly rocking out to his set. People who frequent the club know how rare this is.

By David Malitz |  May 30, 2008; 4:33 PM ET Live Last Night
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