Review/Photos: The Clientele at Lincoln Hall in Chicago, IL; 03.17.10

words and photos by Kirstie Shanley

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If the band The Clientele were somehow transformed into weather patterns, there would easily be a veil of fog and mist surrounding the city. The hooks are subtle like falling rain, not too stormy mind you, but with a gentle quality. Lead singer Alasdair MacLean’s vocals are buried under a thick comforting blanket of reverb.  Reassuring never asks too much of the listener…it’s not a challenge or an acquired taste. Instead, there’s a beautiful sense of melancholy that encompasses the band and hovers over the audience.

The Clientele at Lincoln Hall by Kirstie ShanleyHailing from London, the four piece is now returning to North America to celebrate their latest 2009 release, Bonfires on the Heath, which the majority of the set’s songs were comprised of. MacLean stated outright that it was nice to play in Chicago again, where they have never had a good show.  That isn’t true as their performance at The Subterranean in June of 2007 was rather wondrous despite minimal sound issues.  It’s always incredibly special when they play here, though, and the time between visits feels lengthy.  This is a band that is missed when they’re gone.

The band has come into their own over the course of the last decade throughout their six albums but one detail that surely adds to their lush sound are the backing vocals of Mel Draisey, who also plays keyboard and violin.  Her stage presence is as understated as the band’s sound can be but her delivery is quite lovely and vivid.  The band was also joined this time for a couple of songs by surprise guest Pat Sansone, who is known for his work with Wilco and The Autumn Defense.  Sansone sang backup vocals and played guitar and keyboards for “Bonfires on the Heath” as well as the Big Star cover, “Nighttime.”  This was definitely the saddest song of their hour long set as many of the audience members were just finding out that Big Star lead singer Alex Chilton had passed away earlier in the evening.  Still, their rendition was a worthy and fitting tribute despite the somber situation.

The mood picked up a little with “Here Comes in the Phantom” and later on with “Harvest Time.”  MacLean quipped that if the crowd wanted real misery, they would have to wait until Camera Obscura came around later on.  He also at one point showed concern that he might look like someone’s fat uncle dancing around the stage from video footage he had seen, which clearly isn’t true.  Still, it was nice to sense bits and pieces of the personality behind the very memorable voice.  Other song highlights included: “We Could Walk Together,” “I Wonder Who We Are,” “My Own Face Inside the Trees,” and “Never Anyone But You.”