DRY CLEANING + PVA – CONCORDE 2, BRIGHTON 2.3.22
South London four-piece Dry Cleaning formed in 2018, and soon established themselves amongst the current crop of bands with a sound reminiscent of 1980s post-punk. Their debut single ‘Magic Of Meghan’ was followed by two well received EPs, and at the end of 2020 they signed a deal with the 4AD label. Their sound is distinctive for Florence Shaw’s spoken vocals, utilising poetry comprised of snatches of overheard conversations, or random phrases from signage and magazines, delivered over stunningly inventive guitar soundscapes. Their debut album, ‘New Long Leg’ was one of the best selling independent albums of 2021 and peaked at number four in the official UK charts.
That the accompanying tour comes nearly a year after the album’s release is doubtless due to pandemic concerns, but tonight it finally rolls into Brighton for an eagerly anticipated, and long since sold out, show at Concorde 2.
Support tonight is from PVA, an upwardly mobile London trio who combine a post-punk vibe with electronic dance music. Ella Harris takes most of the lead vocals, stationed house right behind a Korg Prologue synth. She’s a mesmeric performer, with a hint of a young Björk about her, although she tends to sing looking across the stage. Josh Baxter is house left behind a bank of synths, and we learn that he has come straight from his graduation ceremony to play this gig, which is touchingly cute. Centre stage is Louis Satchell, an impressively tight and powerful drummer who is giving his Yamaha kit a proper pounding. He also has a Roland SPD sampling pad to hit when more variety is needed.
There’s no clue given to the audience as to what any of the six songs being performed tonight are called and no written setlists, but we know what they are!
Sadly, one could argue that the vocals are quite possibly too low in the mix this evening to be easily discernible. There are, however, insistent grooves interspersed with more angular rhythms. Ella’s ethereal vocals waft over the juddering electronica. It’s all good fun. I recognise the rapidly speeding up electronic arpeggios as the intro to ‘Sleek Form’, and it’s a cracking tune with a moodily vibey vocal. The final number is ‘Exhaust/Surroundings’, distinctive as Josh takes the lead whilst Ella adds guitar. It’s another splendidly atmospheric piece, with the synth hook giving it something of a post-punk feel, before a playout of skittering electronics comes in, punctuated by interesting stops and some very tasty drum fills.
PVA certainly have generated a buzz in the music scene, and their crossover of indie sensibility with electronica could well prove to be very popular. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from them before too long.
Ella Harris – vocals, synths, guitars
Josh Baxter – synths, vocals
Louis Satchell – drums, vocals
Find out more at pva.band
After a brief changeover, Dry Cleaning take the stage to a loud cheer. Florence is a distinctive figure, tall and willowy in a black dress, with very long hair cascading over her shoulders. Tom is house left, with a cropped cut and a black beard, and he’s slinging a red SG guitar. House right is bassist Lewis, with a road worn Precision and a very retro look. Drummer Nick takes his place behind a fairly minimal kit with a couple of huge cymbals.
There’s a brief moment of quiet as the band gets ready to start. “Who are you, then?” shouts some wag in the audience. Florence’s deadpan reply is lightning quick, “I should say the same thing to you,” accompanied by a peal of laughter and a “boom-tish!” on the drums.
She has an old fashioned mono cassette player which she fires up to provide some ambient sound for opener ‘Leafy’. Electronic drum sounds, via a trigger pad, and bass hammer-ons provide the foundation for a twanging guitar intro, and then the now familiar spoken vocal comes in. I’ve played the album so many times that the random stream-of-collective-consciousness is familiar and strangely comforting. For someone whose stage act is standing stock still with a mildly perplexed expression, Florence is as charismatic a performer as you could wish for. Tom is digging into his guitar, whilst Lewis stands cool and aloof, looking like he’s in a TV show, being played by Matt Berry. Nick gets busy on the main kit, before moving back to the pads for the song’s conclusion.
The powerful intro riff of ‘Unsmart Lady’ cranks up. “Don’t cry, just drive,” Florence intones. “Good luck band.” It’s a cracking number, but it seems the band’s luck has run out. A weird electronic clicking noise has infected the PA. I’m looking suspiciously at the cassette player, but it seems to be a more widespread problem. They finish the song, and there is a brief conflab between band and tech crew. Florence is led back to the dressing room by a stagehand.
“Can you lot hear a crazy crackling noise?” shouts Tom, who doesn’t have a microphone.
“That’s the Russians coming,” quips a comedian in the crowd, topically. Tom informs us that they need to “reboot” the PA, and it’ll take a couple of minutes. Technology, eh?
The crowd are very understanding about the enforced hiatus and the problem is quickly resolved by the time honoured method of turning everything off, and then turning it all back on again. Florence’s quick-fire wit seems unaffected as she totters back on stage in her precipitously high platform shoes: “Sorry about that. They had to take me backstage and reboot me.”
We’re back in with the bubbling bassline of ‘Strong Feelings’. Again, the random lyrics are reassuringly familiar. “Let’s wait for the results of the geophys.” Florence has an extra microphone clamped low on her stand to pick up little flourishes of percussion, in this case a brief shimmer of maraca. ‘Her Hippo’ is another album track, and aside from the “Well well well” vocal hook, which sears itself into my consciousness for the rest of the night, it’s notable for some absolutely stunning guitar work from Tom. There’s a long play out, during which he whips out an e-bow, a hand-held gadget that generates continuous string vibration and unlimited sustain. It sounds awesomely massive. Switching back to a pick, he returns to variations on the main riff, flinging himself and his guitar around the stage with manic abandon. It’s a seriously impressive performance.
There’s a foray into the 2019 EP ‘Boundary Road Snacks And Drinks’, with the plectrum bass chug of ‘Sit Down Meal’ overlaid with an accompanying drone from the cassette player. ‘Viking Hair’, from the same EP, opens with a long vocal howl and some nice interplay between guitar and bass. Tom seems to be really getting into it now, spinning around on the spot as he plays.
“I love you, Florence!” shouts an admirer in the crowd. Her quick reply of “Thanks!” with a tone of mock-enthusiasm, raises a loud chuckle, and we’re into the tumbling drum fills and lolloping bass riff of ‘More Big Birds’. There’s a lovely “Da da da da” vocal hook, which teeters on the boundary between speaking and singing. The lighting, which for the most part has been big washes of colour illuminating the stage smoke, suddenly fires a barrage of pin spots at the venue’s central mirror ball, and the hall is briefly transformed into the boogie wonderland of a 1970s disco. Again, there’s a big instrumental play out with some excellent guitar work.
‘Traditional Fish’ is from the 2019 ‘Sweet Princess’ EP. The lyric is a wonderfully evocative stream of phrases taken from signage on South London’s streets and shops, and for a brief moment I feel I’m actually there. ‘New Long Leg’, the title track of the album, has an utterly hypnotic post-punk groove. There’s a brief shout out to Josh from PVA, congratulating him on his graduation today, and we’re into the blisteringly urgent riff of the debut single ‘Magic Of Meghan’, and I can’t resist having a bit of a dance.
Lewis has the most awesome bass stack, with an Ampeg 8 x 10 on its side, supporting another 4 x 10 cabinet and two massive heads. He makes some adjustments, rolling off all the middle frequencies, before launching the menacing Precision growl of ‘Tony Speaks!’. We conclude with the song that really broke through for the band, the superb ‘Scratchcard Lanyard’, its brisk groove and chiming guitar underpinning a simply wonderful parade of lyrical images. The crowd are all enthusiastically bouncing along as Florence declaims, “It’s a Tokyo bouncy ball, it’s an Oslo bouncy ball, it’s a Rio de Janeiro bouncy ball.” A memorable moment of absolute bliss, this is a great end to a fine set.
Some of the crowd are wondering whether Dry Cleaning are the sort of band that plays encores. There’s a bit of a chant underway, more in hope than expectation, but they do indeed return, with ‘Conversation’ from the ‘Sweet Princess’ EP. This is notable for Florence’s convincing impersonation of an old trimphone ringtone as she gives us one half of a phone conversation. The song ends with another of the long instrumental outros that the band does so well.
Tonight was a great show, despite the brief technical hiccup. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable evening. and an absolute pleasure to finally hear Dry Cleaning play live. I will be eagerly waiting to find out what this supremely inventive combo comes up with next.
Dry Cleaning are:
Florence Shaw – vocals
Tom Dowse – guitar
Lewis Maynard -bass
Nick Buxton – drums
Dry Cleaning setlist:
‘Sit Down Meal’
‘More Big Birds’
‘New Long Leg’
‘Magic Of Meghan’
Find out more at drycleaningband.com