Dry Cleaning Barrel Through Market Hotel in Brooklyn

Nov 23, 2021
By Charles Steinberg


Trains were the theme of the evening when the zeitgeist corralling post-punk quartet Dry Cleaning pulled into Market Hotel in Brooklyn this Friday past. It all unfolded much like a train’s full course: idling at first in the station for what seems like too long, before slowly churning its gears and building momentum into open territory, where suddenly everything surrounding all aboard becomes a sense-blasting blur.

Notwithstanding the sound and acoustic quality issues inherent to Market Hotel’s space, South London’s Dry Cleaning – inarguably one of the breakout bands of the past year – overcame a patch of adjustment to deliver a performance with the robust intensity of the black coffee in a construction worker’s thermos. From what I’ve gathered, the passing trains on the elevated tracks outside the window and directly adjacent to the stage at Market Hotel present problems for bands during soundcheck and performance. Another puzzling situation is the apparent randomness to the utilization of speakers in the room. It’s hard to tell whether some of them are merely being stacked off to the side or if they are intended to actively contribute to the sound. Most troubling was how during some stretches, the output from the setup threatened to drown out the enchanting vocal narration of frontperson Florence Shaw.

It’s a good thing that Shaw has the kind of presence that surmounts such obstacles. Her commanding, alluring voice would be equally transfixing when funneling through the wrecking ball power of her band’s instrument section as it would be hovering over your pillow in the dark, singing you to sleep with a lullaby. Except that it wouldn’t be sung per se. Shaw speaks her lyrics instead, with a level blend of sophistication, attitude, and biting observation that has distinguished her vocals from the pack. They lend the kind of voice-over spunk to Dry Cleaning tracks that Renton’s monologue over “Lust for Life” does at the beginning of Trainspotting (indulgent train reference).

Because they are spoken instead of sung, Dry Cleaning songs contain an exhilarating separate-but-connected relationship between vocals and instrumentation. The components are at once loosely tethered and barrel ahead in the same direction, like a kite attached to the collar of a bulldog, dipping, twisting, coasting, and flittering through the gusts of powerful punk winds whipped up by guitarist Tom Dawes, bassist Lewis Maynard, and drummer Nick Buxton. The contents of Shaw’s lyrics jab out to land their own punches of witty banter. I chuckled heartily when on the 2019 Sweet Princess EP closer “Conversation”, she wonders aloud, “Am I on a date right now?… Is this a date?” I grinned widely while listening to “Spoils” off of the Boundary Road Snacks & Drinks EP, after her request to, “Stream, stream, stream my favorite shows. Just tell me who dies, tell me who finds love.”

Behind Shaw, her bandmates prowl, waiting for their moments to pounce. There’s an immaculate synergy of drum, bass, and guitar that can occasionally be reached by players of these instruments in unison. In the right hands, these standard tools of rock song can transcend the rhythms they produce to become charged chords of electric, sinewy jump rope that the whole room gleefully hops over and around. The hands of Dawes, Maynard, and Buxton were more than capable on Friday night, ripping through much of this exciting group’s wholly conceived and recorded debut album, New Long Leg. When the drum beat and bassline of “Strong Feeling ‘’ kicked in, imitating the gradual build in rotation of the cranks and gears of a locomotive, the collective surge of the room noticeably swelled. Shortly thereafter, at about the two-thirds mark of the title track, the combination of musical counterparts reached an irrepressible crescendo, eliciting a similar euphoria felt during the climax of a song like, let’s say, Interpol’s “PDA”. It was at that point, with Shaw’s hypnotic gaze and utterance passing over the crowd, that Dry Cleaning held its members in the palms of their strong hands.

For the remainder of the set, the urgency and energy reached the level where Dry Cleaning’s playing personified the runaway freight train monster in the movie Unstoppable. The forward motion made it feel like if it were not for the completely packed room of showgoers, the band itself would have propelled off the stage and through the brick wall at the back of the venue. All perturbations surrounding the slow start were forgotten as the initial looks of restrained impatience transformed into the wide eyes and smiles on the bopping heads of all in attendance. It was practically impossible to pay attention to anything other than the force of the music. So, mission accomplished for Dry Cleaning on this night. Above the challenges of its environs, they rose to the occasion to deliver a performance of their debut album equal to its zealous anticipation.

After the show, the buzz amongst the many that lingered was even stronger than it had been before it. It was that kind of collective gratification that people have been sorely missing over the past two years of life without concerts, and it was especially cool to witness it on the faces of another band in attendance that had recently blessed those same Brooklyn confines, Nation of Language. As it turned out, the evening was to continue at a local bar where friends and fans would spill over to watch Dry Cleaning play the hit song “Scratchcard Lanyard” on their Tonight Show debut. Fallon seemed to be just as geeked as everyone else as he presented the same band on television that sat behind me at the bar. I spun around briefly to catch a glimpse of a humbled Florence Shaw watching something she probably couldn’t quite believe and thought to myself, “Now this is what you call an arrival in New York…I just hope their hotel accommodations are better than Market’s.” After some further celebration of a night that felt taken from the pages of a former NYC concert night glory, I somehow found my way back to Manhattan – on the train.

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