Live Review: Shannon and the Clams Lead a Local Garage Rock VIP-Fest at The Chapel

Shannon and the Clams
Earth Girl Helen Brown
Magic & Naked
Friday, Jan. 23, 2015
The Chapel

Better than: Clam chowder from a Boudin-bred bread bowl.

(((folkYEAH!))) is celebrating their 10-year anniversary of putting on shows around the Bay Area and beyond this month, with events such as Jessica Pratt at the Atrium in Santa Cruz, Cool Ghouls & Fresh and Onlys at Great American, and a Father John Misty Northern California tour. This past Friday night, Jan. 23, the celebratory atmosphere endemic to the Folk Yeah canon seeped into The Chapel, bringing a capacity crowd to the Mission to shake and rattle to one of Oakland's best exports. The church and the choir were fully enlivened for this sermon, which lasted well past midnight and featured musicians both familiar and new to the ears in attendance.

[jump] The opening band for the night was Magic & Naked, a dribbling psychedelic merry-go-round threesome from the neutral zone of Switzerland. Fully clothed and offering no slight of hand or frilly illusions, they droned through a fuzzy set that played like the background music to a montage of Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Meandering bass lines back-boned minor chord progressions, interspersed with cascading drum fills and lots of cymbal riding. The vocals murmured along with the music, unintelligible and largely lethargic, though speckled with bouts of emphasis and the occasional high-pitched mile marker. Most of the audience swayed like a kelp forest caught in the Monterey tide, taking the music in one ear and letting it drift out of the other. People who filtered in during their set started filling the cracks in the room, finding their preferred nook with a drink in hand.

Main support for the night was provided by Earth Girl Helen Brown, whose band consisted of faces recognizable to followers of the San Francisco music scene; one of her guitar players and inspirational springboard was none other than Sonny Smith of Sunny and the Sunsets, who'll be playing a Folk Yeah show of his own here at The Chapel on Feb. 21. Helen's folksy yodeling took center stage, rising and falling from a stratospheric falsetto back down to earth like a satellite in orbit. Behind her the band waltzed through three-chord progressions, sporadically interrupted so each member could hammer out a frenetic solo. Helen's melodic ooohs and aaahhs dominated the set, and some of her music delved into spoken-word anecdotes that went over our heads and outside to have a cigarette. Charming, composed, and unassuming, her music tip-toed around the room, careful not to tread on anyone's foot or spill any beverages.
The Chapel was completely full by the time Shannon and The Clams took the stage; bodies were packed against the walls like a can of gas under pressure. With their hands on the valve, Shannon Shaw, Cody Blanchard, and Ian Amberson uncorked a raucous and rousing performance, complete with a handful of new songs and some old favorites that worked the crowd into a fervor. The cult of the Clam commenced early, as the ritualistic refrains of “The Cult Song,” one of the Clams' more beloved tunes, opened their set with plenty of chanting and singing along from the audience. “Into a Dream” was next, from their more whimsical release Dreams in the Rat House on Hardly Art. The set shook the room for the next hour or so, and from my perch on the mezzanine I watched the masses below wiggle and writhe, taking turns jumping off the stage and straight to the floor, bypassing the nonsupporting arms of their peers.

This was a show everyone wanted to see — people were actually trying to sneak in. The show was all-ages, and featured lots of Hunx and His Punx t-shirts (Shannon's other band) and Burger Records pins. Shannon and the Clams is truly a flagship band of the Bay Area garage rock scene, and members of Bad Vibes, Slick!, Apache, The She's, We Arsons, and a handful of other groups were present in the audience, all fans of the Clams like anyone else. The new songs that they played exemplified the quintessential Clams style; Cody's washboard guitar riffs, Shannon's layered crooning and intricate bass arrangements, and minimalist but precise drumming. This is a band that's made leaps and bounds in the past few years, going from warehouse shows in West Oakland to tours to Europe and beyond. Their sold-out show at the Chapel on Friday proved there's pretty much unlimited local love for this band, no matter how international of a sensation they become.  

Critic's notebook:

Shannon gave a shout-out to her mother, who was in the audience.

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