John Waters' favorite band brings some darkness to its Bay Area garage-surf on a new record. Info/tix
Despite headlining at festivals such as Burger Boogaloo, Coachella, and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Oakland-based Shannon And The Clams seem to be content just below the radar. Leader Shannon Shaw, also of queer-punk ensemble Hunx & his Punx, can belt it out from a low baritone all the way to a sterling falsetto, all with a welcome dose of gravel and squall. Cody Blanchard, who also performs solo as King Lollipop and shares principal vocals and songwriting responsibilities with Shaw, has a croon that is at once sweet and frantic. The band takes the sugary harmonies of 1960s girl groups like The Shangri-la's and The Shirelles and mixes it with the frenetic garage rock of bands like The Seeds or the 13th Floor Elevators, without wandering too far into overly anachronistic or gimmicky territory.
For their fifth studio album, this year's Onion, the Clams have moved away from labels like 1-2-3-4 Go! and Hardly Art and opted for a more Nashville sound. Black Keys member Dan Auerbach (who also recorded Shaw's excellent new solo album, Shannon In Nashville) produced and recorded Onion and released it on his label Easy Eye. Auerbach brings a welcome polish to the band's sound, while letting them retain their signature soulful, feverish rock and roll. But beneath the surf-y guitar hooks and the 1950's doo-wop sensibility lies a more somber tone. The band had already started writing and recording Onion when the deadly fire at the Oakland warehouse venue Ghost Ship took place, a devastating loss to artistic and queer communities in the East Bay. The band lost some dear friends, and the landscape of DIY music and art spaces in Oakland was altered forever. Many spaces were forced to close due to new municipal restrictions.
The album took a decidedly darker turn in the aftermath. Blanchard's "Backstreets" tells the story of an outcast looking for a safe space to run, and offers a commentary on society's marginalization of artists. On the last track on the album, "Don't Close Your Eyes," Shaw encourages self-care in the wake of tragedy: "And don't close your eyes / If you just see that night / Do what you must / To grasp every feeling / Now open those eyes and take in that light." Indeed, the album has its moments of light and playfulness, with tracks like "The Boy" poking fun at toxic masculinity and "If You Could Know" recounting the dizzying sensation of falling for someone. And they still, after all their years playing together in different iterations, sound like they're having a fucking blast. Opening are Dirty Fences from New York City and Madison trio The Hussy. It's the night before Halloween, too, so there's sure to be some merry mayhem at this one. —Katie Hutchinson