Clinic have been around for a long time. Their debut album, Internal Wrangler, came out when I was just starting high school and I still remember my best friend Josh hyping them as a less bombastic, mellower version of our then favorite UK rock group, Radiohead. Skip forward some 13 years later and last night was my first opportunity to see Clinic live — albeit without Josh, who was forced to work late in Sacramento (adulthood? fuck) — at the Rickshaw Stop.
Canadian show openers No Joy lived up to their serviceable-new-shoegaze hype, combining reverb-drenched guitars with a tight rhythm and bass section. In a welcome surprise, lead singer Laura Lloyd was open to having her vocals mixed relatively high (for the genre), bringing out the band’s truly catchy melodies. Call me impressed. No Joy can rock when they want to, throwing down some nice burnt, snare-snapping outros to close a few of the heavier numbers.
Clinic, as usual, came out wearing scrubs and surgical masks — “a tacky pun on the band name,” according to lead singer Ade Blackburn — to a small but enthusiastic crowd. Compared to 13 years ago, Clinic’s music today is far less experimental than it seemed in my youth: vintage keyboards and synths combined with simple drum beats, usually repeating musical phrases while Blackburn adds his unique, tinny vocals. Clinic are never afraid to take their time, and show highlights “Miss You” and “See Saw” — both from their 2012 LP Free Reign — each extend outward from a simple riff, repeating until the band reaches a satisfying conclusion, like kids finished experimenting with dropping colored oils into water and watching the resulting swirl.
Their live show doesn’t completely live up to the weird costumes and out-of-time recordings the band has put out since 1997: professional and succinct, Clinic make exactly zero changes from the album material, faithfully recreating the recordings. That said, the band is limited and defined by Ade Blackburn’s vocal range, which is perfect for Clinic’s laid-back experiments but, beyond that, begins to falter. After 16 years of music, it’s clear to me that the foursome is unlikely to ever move beyond headlining the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco. Leaving the venue last night, I began to think that this influential group could harness this freedom from expectations to become a little more demanding, a little more aggressive, a little more raw, and a little less clinical.