[ATTENDED: October 2, 2015] Clarke and the Himselfs
Friday night was going to be my first time seeing Built to Spill and my first time going to Union Transfer, the fabled Philly venue. I couldn’t believe the show started at 8:30 and there would be 2 opening acts. I estimated getting home at 2AM which proved to be accurate.
I’d never heard of either opening act so I didn’t mind if I got there a little late. But as it turned out, there was no traffic and I wound getting there about 20 minutes early. Which was cool since there was hardly anyone there. In fact, there was a row of people leaning against the stage and that was it (and a lot more in the bar and balcony) . So I staked my claim near the stage and waited for Clarke.
Turns out Clarke and the Himselfs are just Clarke. I was pretty surprised when I saw him set up. He sat behind a tiny drumkit, put a tambourine on the high-hat, grabbed his beat-to-crap guitar and began playing…everything.
Clarke has an amazing style–he strums his guitar while holding a drum stick. And alternates hitting the snare between strums. He has managed to write songs so that the drum hit is syncopated with his guitar strums–and of course he has his pedals turned way up so that he doesn’t need the guitar strumming to make chords. He plays bass drum throughout the song and–my favorite part–he throws in occasional section where the hi-hat/tambourine combo plays–which adds an astonishing amount of depth to the songs.
It’s amazing to see him playing the guitar, both legs bouncing up and down as he simultaneously hits the bass and hi hat pedals all the while playing his guitar and hitting the snare and occasional cymbal.
I took two videos (you can see one on instagram), but I don’t know how to embed them here, so here’s a clip from someone else (at a better angle).
In fairness, his songs are pretty simple (they’d have to be, right?). They are pretty dirgelike (and pretty dark lyrically). The songs are just a few chords, a simple drum beat and vocals that are highly vibratoed. His singing style reminds me of David Bowie (with heavy vibrato). The guitar is loud and distorted.
But it was amazing to watch. The sound could have used a bit more diversity–it was really low end, and kind of samey. Although I bought his live CD and I could clearly tell which songs he had played that night, so it wasn’t just a blur of unrecognizable songs or anything. And his soon to be released studio album has a bit more diversity in sound and was recorded a bit more cleanly.
He was selling merch at the end of the show (check out his lego display stand below). I got to talk to him for a few seconds. He was super nice. It was really something to see.
You can hear his new album on his bandcamp site.
Some songs I know he played:
Dull Blue Crayon