Live review: The Clock at ABC2, 26/8/11

Before rockers The Clock get started, most spectators depart from the front barrier to chat idly and catch up with support-act Motion Play. How to get a crowd whose attention has wandered back to the front? Well, if you’re The Clock you slip into modified balaclavas, detailed with sharp eyebrows and Dick Dastardly-esque pencil moustaches, and bludgeon them with a sonic tsunami.

Launching into ‘These Hands’, an undertow of cacophonic guitars shore up the bar and the crowd reconvene. The drums are heavy, the amps loud, and my girlfriend is already fearful of these four masked men. She’s not the only one. Bassist Matt Keenan, playing his last gig with the band before embarking on a year’s sojourn to Prague, slithers like a diamondback rattlesnake toward the front of the stage, coming within an inch of smacking a reveller with his guitar neck. Incidentally, the masks are disconcertingly wicked-looking, and new guitarist Jordan endures half the track before rolling his up his face, before the band follow suit. The tension is not so much broken as blown apart, and the whispered refrain of “it takes a long, long time to retrace your steps” over quickening guitars seems to have the audience in a trance.

A Chopin nocturne this is not – The Clock are creators of noise. With that in mind, frontman Calum Stewart’s voice is not the typical rockstar’s wail – it rises above the instrumental storm to find its own place, and somehow sounds both bashful and entirely assured. It dominates with a low-lying bassline the intro to ‘The Thoughts’ as his eyes bore into the front row. “I’ll turn my back to this and recall, recall” he surmises, before the track comes alive, and a booming bassline engulfs all.  When Stewart sings, the guitars subside into krautrock-style reverb, and when he stops, the bass whumps and bombasts with such force it seems beamed in from another quadrant.

‘Last Romance’ is a scimitar-sharp love song with a twist, Stewart snarling “I can’t stand your fear of the dark” as vacillations of noise escape the Marshall stacks. ‘The Years We Shared in Chinatown’ is an intricate, elegiac lament that allows the crowd to get their breath back. The band sound different live when compared to their EP, more muscular and visceral, though the quality of the songs is evident in both forms.

What I said about the crowd getting their breath back? Forget it. Soon Stewart is toppling over the front barrier, and Jordan is joining him. The singer sprints toward the gent’s toilets, turns, canters up the steps at the rear of the venue, sprints between the wall and railings toward the bar, and re-enters the stage via the crowd as Jordan squirms on the ground still riffing the steam from his unplugged guitar. Keenan surveys the chaos like he is going to miss it, and it’s easy to see why. Playing in front of a modest crowd and kicking the arse out of it this much must be fun.

The band round the set off with ‘Birds’, a medley of foot-stomping power chords, and ‘Letter of Farewell’. On the latter, Matt puts down the bass and plays a toy melodica, offering a markedly different pace to the bygone half-hour. “All I can say, don’t take this way, don’t let these thoughts get under your skin” sings Stewart before the noise is back, but briefly, and the gales ring out as the crowd put their hands together. The song seems an appropriate set-closer, less slipshod and uncontained, with a condensed melody that doesn’t give way to scissoring crescendos of guitar. The Clock can have it both ways. Thanking the audience and bidding a wry farewell to Matt, Stewart and co. exit stage left.  If this gig is anything to go by, we haven’t seen the last of the masks.

Words: Ronnie McCluskey

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