Britain's Clinic casts a spell

March 30, 2002



There's an unsettling undercurrent of unease and foreboding running through the music of Clinic, and it's that creepy ambience that is earning the quickly rising indie-rock quartet ecstatic comparisons to Radiohead.

During a short yet impressive set Thursday night at a sold-out Abbey Pub, vocalist and key auteur Ade Blackburn and his compatriots proved that they were much less static and much more garage-oriented than Thom Yorke and friends.

Yes, Clinic travels in minor-key drones, oddly twisted melodies and oblique lyrical ruminations about vultures and shadows. But the music of this Liverpool band is never less than propulsive and compelling, riding a groove that's part Bo Diddley via the Velvet Underground, and part amped-up tribal rhythm via the German art-rockers Can.

The band is not above resorting to shtick in an attempt to distinguish its otherwise flat stage presence. The foursome performs in surgical scrubs and surgeons' face masks, and its monochromatic sounds can be lost in a larger setting. (The band faired poorly at the expansive La Zona Rosa during a much-hyped showcase at the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference earlier this month.)

But with a startlingly crisp and powerful mix at the relatively intimate Abbey, the group cast a delightfully wicked spell as it delivered evocative mood pieces such as "Harmony" and the title track of its second album, "Walking With Thee." Blackburn was especially effective when highlighting these songs' fractured hooks on melodica as his three bandmates focused obsessively on churning out those unique rhythms until, all at once, the set was over.

Some bands would have disappointed a crowd that had come to see if the hype was justified by playing for a mere 30 minutes. But Clinic is smart enough to know that a spell can't be sustained forever, and it sent its fans packing while they were still firmly under the magicians' enchanted hex.