Photographs and Review by John Bentley

Clinic

I’ve been a fan of Clinic for many years now, but have never seen them live. They’ve long been on my list of bands ‘to see’, but they don’t seem to do that many gigs. So I really jumped at the opportunity to pop up to Manchester’s Deaf Institute to catch one of a small number of UK concerts they’re playing before they head off on a North American tour.

Mugstar

A recent edition of Mojo magazine included a free CD entitled ‘Echoes’, a collection of modern psychedelia. One of the best tracks on this sampler album, and one which I kept coming back to and playing, was ‘Sunburst Impedance Machine’ by Mugstar. So I am pretty chuffed when I find out that tonight’s support band is Mugstar and, what’s more, they kick-off their excellent set with that very track. Mugstar have been around a few years and play their own brand of lengthy instrumental pieces, influenced by psychedelia, krautrock and spacerock. It’s pretty fast, noisy and intense stuff, with heavy repetitive riffs. If you like experimental electronic and guitar workout bands like Wooden Shjips, Toy and Hawkwind, then do check-out Mugstar’s albums. Tonight the four piece band play under subdued and swirling lights and it’s a trippy, hypnotic experience watching their six song set.

Mugstar setlist: Sunburst Impedance Machine; Black Fountain; Serra; Axis Modular; Ouroboros; Bethany Heart Star.

Clinic

This is my first visit to the Deaf Institute and I like it. There’s a nice bar and eating place downstairs, so you don’t have to queue outside until the doors open, as happens at most venues. Upstairs is one of the smallest concert rooms I have seen. So by the time Clinic make their sell-out appearance the place is heaving with humanity and movement is a virtual impossibility. The old cliché about being like sardines packed in a tin is really true tonight.

Clinic

For those who aren’t familiar with Clinic, the obvious starting point is that they perform in surgical masks, caps and gowns. However, this is not some cheap gimmick. Their anonymity under the masks says a lot about their approach – the music is all important and they want to create an appropriate setting for it. They’ve really forged their own style, taking elements like 60s and 70s rock and pop, punk, krautrock and psychedelia, and blended them together in their own way. It’s pretty quirky, but extremely interesting stuff. The early songs were pretty full-on, but over their seven albums and various EPs Clinic’s style has broadened and they can be quite melodic, even pastoral. The band has achieved a high critical reputation and has supported major acts like Arcade Fire and The Flaming Lips on tour.

Clinic

Live tonight they perform their more visceral material, in a punchy set that never lets up or gets boring. They swap around instruments and, besides guitars, they employ various keyboards and devices to achieve all sorts of sounds. They even use a clarinet on ‘See Saw’ (from the latest album, ‘Free Reign’), although the noises emitted through the sound system seem nothing like a clarinet.
Quite a lot of the numbers tonight are from the classic early period, including three from their first full album, ‘Internal Wrangler’. Such tracks, like the intriguingly titled ‘I.P.C. Subeditors Dictate Our Youth’, ‘The Return of Evil Bill’ and ‘Porno’, are particularly well received by the audience. These feature the characteristically droney vintage organ sound that is a trade mark of much of Clinic’s work. ‘Evil Bill’ also features the melodica, an instrument usually associated with reggae, but much used on the first album. Throughout the evening, Ade Blackburn’s strangely whiney vocals from under the surgical mask are a distinctive feature that fits the style of the music perfectly.

Clinic

There’s also plenty of material from later albums, which illustrate how the band’s sound has both retained its essential character and at the same time developed. ‘Tusk’ is a fast punk-style track featuring guitars. ‘King Kong’ features bleepy synths. ‘Lion Tamer’ is an infectiously catchy pop song, albeit a strange one.

Clinic

It’s probably true to say that the audience contains a lot of long tern Clinic fans, who are pretty familiar with their work, and the carefully selected setlist is well received. The evening finishes with a three song encore, with the final number, ‘Cement Mixer’, going down particularly well. The fans endure the cramped conditions and even attempt some dancing. The only negative is when some idiot throws most of a glass of beer in the air and soaks quite a few people (including me). A bit of a scuffle breaks out and it doesn’t happen again.

Clinic

So it’s been a great evening of defining Clinic music. Even though the band remain anonymous under the masks there is a real connection with the audience. If you want to check into Clinic (sorry, I couldn’t resist that), then the album ‘Internal Wrangler’ and the compilation ‘Voot’ are particularly recommended.

Clinic

Clinic Setlist: I Ching; Children of Kellogg; You; Tusk; King Kong; I.P.C. Subeditors Dictate Our Youth; Lion Tamer; Porno; Seamless Boogie Woogie BBC2 10pm (rpt); Orangutan; See Saw; Miss You; The Return of Evil Bill; 2/4. Encore: Walking With Thee; T.K.; Cement Mixer.

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