The intimate setting of The Cellar seems like a relatively modest place in which to see a band with an inexplicable level of success as Clock Opera, who despite being a seemingly pretty strange band, have received a surprising amount of press attention and radio play.
Opening band Fiction have been fairly relentlessly touring for years, opening up for bands like Warpaint, Klaxons and Metronomy. Their music is constantly shifting, song to song, from sparkling, light-hearted afro-pop to hazy, shoegaze, all of it very percussive. Often music this varied or unfocused relies heavily on a recognisable voice to tie together the competing ideas, but Fiction swap vocalists as much as they swap styles, meaning their sets feels like watching several different bands in the space of 30 minutes. Often an irresistible, poppy hook will save a song from simply being a shapeless mass of sound, but occasionally there is nothing engagingly poppy enough to make them a really life-changing prospect.
It is probably worth mentioning that I had absolutely no prior knowledge of Clock Opera’s music other than a vague interest based on recommendations from friends. Clock Opera have been favorably compared to bands like Passion Pit and Animal Collective; bands who have the enviable ability to combine catchy pop sensibilities with washy, experimental sonic styles, and to a certain extent Clock Opera do this too, and do it reasonably well.
Single ‘Man Made’ is exciting enough, although perhaps not as keeping-you-up-at-4am memorable as Passion Pit’s best. Guy Connelly, the brains behind Clock Opera, has surrounded himself with very capable musicians, and knows how to put on a pretty good show. There are percussive breakdowns in which every band member starts beating and banging on metal goblets, there are heavy synth workouts, and there is charming banter between songs; everything you would want from an enjoyable gig, basically.
There is still a sneaking suspicion for me that there is more filler than killer in their set, and indeed in their debut album. There are certainly a few die hard fans in attendance who lap up every song enthusiastically, but as a newcomer, very little actually jumps out and slaps me in the face in the way that Animal Collective did the first time I heard them. There are moments of real pop magic, such as the aforementioned ‘Man Made’ and single ‘Lesson No.7’, but there are plenty of forgettable moments too.
For a band famed for using found sounds and warped and distorted samples, many of their songs are built up of components which sound suspiciously like every other synth pop band of the last 3 or 4 years. Conelly’s theatrical, occasionally falsetto vocals appear to aim for the crazy theatricality of The Associates or Wild Beasts, but Clock Opera are no where near are genuinely strange and engaging as those bands. Never the less a reasonably enjoyable concert experience for a complete newcomer like me.