The Clean / Knitting Factory / June 5, 2002
Despite originally breaking up within 18 months of existence, preeminent first wave New Zealand punks, The Clean, became local legends when their infectious carnival-esque ’81 single, “Tally Ho!,” hit number one and a string of now vintage follow-up singles informed an entire generation of lo-fi pop bands from Down Under.
But while vibrantly loopy offspring such as the Bats, Tall Dwarves, and noisy Sonic Youth-styled drones Bailter Space gained attention, the durable Dunedin combo kept intermittently coming back, belatedly releasing their full-length debut, Vehicle, in ’90. The ensuing folk-skewed Modern Rock came four years hence. Then, ‘96s adventurous Unknown Country dropped.
After wallowing away the ‘80s in Kiwi underground folklore, the great-lost band has once more recaptured cerebral rock listeners. Righteously,’01s illuminating Getaway not only reached its aging post-punk American cult, but also cool collegiate coeds half their age, as proven by the large assemblage of admirers this rainy night at Manhattan’s Knitting Factory.
Guitarist-singer David Kilgour (whose solo albums are worth seeking out), his drumming brother, Hamish (concurrently involved with the fabulous Mad Scene), singer-bassist-high school buddy Robert Scott (ex-Bats frontman), and percussionist Danny Tunick (ex-Guvner) dug deep into their extensive catalogue recently compiled on Merge Records’ stunning Anthology.
Beginning with the instrumental Western guitar motif “Fish” (reprised mood-wise on the similar, busier “At The Bottom”), The Clean unloaded swampy pseudo-psychedelia, resilient neo-symphonies, and hazy pastoral retreats nearly flawlessly. Kilgour’s spangled guitar poured out angular riffs while his of-times lost-in-the-mix shy voice took lead on a third of the performances. Scott sang in a more expressively assured baritone, exhibiting a casual temperance perfectly reflected by his winsomely melodic two-minute tunes. Some drifted into the background barely noticeable, lingering through a steady stream of casually terse trinkets, but building to a climactic crescendo on the Velvet Underground knockoff, “Safe In The Rain.”
As the generous set came to a dramatic conclusion with the translucent “What Are You Fighting For,” plus a similarly serene stripped-down stroller and the dusky hook-filled “Whatever Do Right,” the appreciable gathering hit the damp streets completely satisfied. As for The Clean, they’ll be getting ready to tour America and gain some new fans with Jersey friends, Yo La Tengo.