Hare & Hounds
Review by SdM
You catch the odd line from Dry Cleaning and it further adds to the enigma. Dressed in shiny Bruce Lee style black trousers and flowery cardigan Florence Shaw stands centre front of the stage and barely moves. She reads the lyrics/prose from pages set on a music stand. The words are mostly spoken as if thinking out loud; the odd line that is sung is done so in a self-conscious manner as if she were alone at home rolling out pastry. Never, thank god, does Florence break into the commonplace cadence and affected rap-rhythms of other spoken-word artists.
Between songs there is the turning and casual discarding of a page of text. An old Walkman type cassette player was quietly picked up, played as background sounds, and placed back without fuss. On final song ‘Conversations’ a tambourine was played with the merest flick of the wrist and touch against the opposing hand. Whether this stage presence is a contrivance or the taking on of the character or thoughts and feelings at the time the song was written is unclear. Whatever It is, it’s totally mesmerising. So drawn in to the spectacle that the arching of an eyebrow, the vaguest smile on the lips, the slightest narrowing of eyes – it becomes as meaningful and theatrical as Jimi Hendrix scorching his stratocaster.
If an earth flattening meteorite was just minutes away from annihilating mankind I imagine Florence would be fairly nonplussed, casually carrying on her day and musing on others’ needless panic. Her backing band, whilst not exactly running around in hysteria, are a far more animated contrast on stage. Each clearly a very accomplished musician they also appear to be very different people. Long-haired big-bearded bassist looks like he should be in Pantera. The overly tall guitarist is dressed for the summer in shorts and Borussia Dortmund football top. A fair-haired and casually dressed drummer thumps away on the drums and sweats his way through the gig thoroughly enjoying himself..
In light of the above, perhaps the most puzzling thing about Dry Cleaning is how they make it all seem so…so…right; and if anyone has got it wrong – it’s you! Set opener ‘Goodnight’ does a better job of sounding like a raw local-pub-band than Blur ever managed to do. On ‘Spoils’ Florence gives a dispassionate intro similar in style to Grace Jones’ ‘Warm Leatherette’. The musical backing was worthy of the Stooges at the height of their 70’s anger and creativity. ‘Viking Hair’ and the chorus of ‘Sit Down Meal’ have a similar post-punk aura; the striking guitar melody heavily accentuating and characterising the overall sound.
“So we have an E.P. that came out last week called ‘Sweet Princess’ and this is a song from it called ‘Traditional Fish’. Sing along if you know the words.” You couldn’t help but laugh. Between songs Florence gradually lets her guard down and speaks with a knowing glint in her eye and is teasingly and sharply funny.
Dry Cleaning are a band making music, damn fine music, but it’s just unlike anything you might have heard before. How can phlegmatic Flo simply read aloud whilst fronting what is essentially a post-punk rock band? How can spoken-word ‘songs’ of dead pet cats and Travelodge carpets rock your socks off and rouse an audience to rapturous applause? Quite frankly I don’t know? But there you go, one of the most unusual, different, bizarre and NORMAL bands you are ever likely to see. Absolutely brilliant.