Thanks to the ever-growing Chaos in Tejas festival, Lone Star Staters were treated to a show we never thought we’d ever see: a Clean concert. Though CiT books mostly hardcore and extreme metal acts, the organizer is such a huge Clean fan that he convinced the legendary New Zealand band to appear, which in turn helped the trio book a U.S. tour to keep the show from being a one-off. Given the crowd’s reaction and the number of old friends present, it was pretty clear that this performance was a long time coming for Austin underground rock fans.
With no new album to promote (the most recent being 2009’s Mister Pop), the band played mostly material from its earliest days. With three decades of experience and more attention paid to tuning (maybe too much – David Kilgour tuned incessantly, preventing song-to-song momentum), tunes like “Anything Can Happen,” “Getting Older” and “Point That Thing Somewhere Else” had no amateurish charm to fall back on and had to stand or fall on their own merits. Fortunately they’re all genius pop tunes (or, in the case of “Point That Thing,” psychedelic workouts) and hold up quite nicely 30-odd years on. More recent stuff wasn’t ignored, either, as the band essayed brilliant versions of “Draw(in)g to a (W)hole,” from 1990’s excellent Vehicle, and the lovely “In the Dreamlife U Need a Rubber Soul,” from Mister Pop.
Minus the acoustic guitars and jolly organ that colors so much of the Clean’s recordings, the band was in power trio mode, with most of the attention on David’s psychedelic guitar work. His drummer brother Hamish and bassist Robert Scott kept the rhythms steady and driving, allowing David plenty of space to explore the zone between crunch and jangle. (Hamish also provided the quips that kept David’s tuning excursions from being interminable.) “Point That Thing” and the classic instrumental “Fish” gave the trio plenty of room to stretch out without becoming boring.
If there was any doubt that the audience was chock full of Clean fanatics, it disappeared when the band launched into the set-ending “Tally Ho!” Austin crowds can be awfully reserved during shows, but this one went nuts at the opening chords and jumped through the song like a four-year-old on a trampoline. The Clean encored with the singalong sweetness and frantic rock rush of “Oddity” and “Billy Two” – for a band that doesn’t move around much onstage, it generates an electrical grid’s worth of energy. It seemed over far too soon – twelve songs, which would have gone by seemingly in an instant if David hadn’t been locked on his tuner. But given the smiles on everyone’s faces afterward, no one was left unsatisfied. Hopefully the Clean won’t wait decades to come back to Austin.
Also seen on this bill tonight: the Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, who pleased longtime fans with their snarky Midwestern hard rock, the Royal Headache, who inspired a furious mosh pit with a blazing set of melodic pop punk, Daughan Gibson, who played an indescribable mix of electronics, guitar wash and creepy storytelling, and the Sea Lions, a young janglepop band who’ll be dangerous once the singer learns to croon in the same key in which the songs were written and the musicians figure out how to end a song all at the same time.