Yes – Halloween was almost a week ago – we know – but we’d still like to tell you how some of us on the WLUW team spent this year’s All Hallows’ Eve. We got to spend the evening with surf-rock quartet Shannon and The Clams at the Thalia Hall for a Halloween bonanza featuring The Clams’ infectious brand of vintage garage style and a cavalcade of kooky rock ‘n’ roll characters: Dirty Fences, Escape-ism, and Nobunny. Are you familiar with the classic film Hocus Pocus? Well, remember the scene where Bette Midler and the other witches perform for the crowd of costumed adults who will not stop dancing? The show was a lot like that – details below!
ALSO: Keep an eye out for our pre-show interview with Shannon & The Clams!
Dirty Fences: Self proclaimed on bandcamp as “NYC’s Rock N Roll Hard Workin’ Band,” the band of long-haired, hard rocking gentleman opened the evening of high energy frivolity with a set of scuzzed-up rock ‘n’ roll reminiscent of the classics from the CBGB scene who once inhabited their city in the 1970s, but infused with a modern garage tone and sense of humor. They revved the venue up just enough with pummeling crunches of guitar distortion and festive costumes.
Escape-ism: One of the stranger records of this year, but one of our favorites at WLUW has been Escape-ism’s The Lost Record. This is a musical project of Ian Svenonius (XYZ, David Candy, Nation of Ulysses, etc.) that finds the mop-headed indie rock eccentric reciting snarling poetry and prose in front a backing of minimal synth beats and dissonant electronic boops – with his trademark lisp hidden from no one. Live at Thalia, it was him, big black hair, skinny black suit and tie hopping back and forth, to and fro, spouting his attitude laden, faux-politico lyrics, making sparks of noise from his right-handed guitar played upside down. He was joined by Alexandra, (who we had a very pleasant convo with at the merch table!), who manned the tiny synth, a tambourine once, and clapped a few times – she wore a black pantsuit. And that was it! And it was phenomenal. If you were to zoom a camera in on our group up in the balcony seats during this set, you’d have seen me leaning forward over my crossed legs my hand on my open jaw for the full 30 minutes or so staring at Ian Svenonius doing it absolutely correct. I’d never seen anything like it – I turned to Carolyn, WLUW MD, who arrived at the set’s tail end and summarized it - “That was f*****g insane.”
Nobunny: I never thought I’d ever see Nobunny. He’s been around for a minute, prancing around the garage rock scene of the 21st Century in his legendary (at this point) tattered bunny mask, jumping around in leather skivvies, but in my mind he’s this enigma of the underworld of music who lurks in the shadows of the basements and bars of Chicago and emerges only late at night to scream into a microphone while his band kicks out the jams – yet there he was, on Halloween Night at Thalia Hall, though honestly I can’t think of a better setting for a Nobunny set. One fuzzed out garage punk song after the other, fast paced, every band member wore bunny ears, it was creepy and kind of grossly sexual at the same time but still rocked so hard. The head bunny – the Nobunny – did his thing, he pranced and jumped and screeched and sang and I’ve never heard a harder cover of Helter Skelter.
Now many times I’ve had the tendency to think that more than one opener at a show is too much but I’d say at this party, none of these openers were a bore, there was nothing tedious about their sets, it was just enough to get everybody, costumed or otherwise, excited and ready for the main event. Ian Svenonius creeped back onstage, hunched over pretending to wince at the spotlight on him. He addressed the audience consisting of aliens, skeletons and zombies, a mad scientist, a bat, a slice of pizza, bubble gum, and some bunnies. He recounted the night so far and then claimed “rock and roll used to be for the misfists, the outcasts…the NERDS!” and then out came Shannon and the Clams, dressed as nerds, complete with glasses and high-waisted pants.
Shannon and The Clams: Listen to a Clams’ record and you’ll listen to a mix of soul and style rooted in a vintage sound, surf rock and RnB meet with a hard edge and give way to the emotive and sensual croons of bassist and vocalist (and namesake) Shannon Shaw. That’s what I want to distinguish about their live sound first – Shannon KILLS it on the bass and she sings like an otherworldly witch whose screams could give James Brown a run for his money. The band is made of Shannon’s voice + bass, Cody Blanchard’s telecaster twang and solos that actually rip pretty hard, Nate Mahan’s beat making drumming, and Will Sprott’s guitar + keyboard textures. Shannon sings lead and the others sing backup, falsettos like a flock of seagulls on the surf.
They ran through some classics from their back catalogue (6 LPs so far). My favorite, the one I wanted to hear the most, came from 2011’s Sleep Talk, a song called “You Will Always Bring Me Flowers,” which has a drum beat intro so recognizable to me, I knew right away it was here. Other cuts came from 2018’s Onion, 2015’s Gone By The Dawn, or 2013 Dream In The Rat House – songs that elicited dancing from not just the floor, but coordinated moves from those in the opera boxes, and people standing all around the balconies.
But what was really cool were to cover songs the band broke out special for the Halloween set. They opened with the song that basically embodies Halloween – Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath.” Cody recited the satanic hymn like lyrics and screamed at us. Other covers included CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising,” The Misifts’ “Angelfuck,” The Sonics’ “The Witch,” The Stones’ “Paint it Black,” and Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” (that’s a hard song to nail vocally, Shannon sang the best version I’ve heard after the original.) This set was just spooky enough and just fun enough to make it an A+ Halloween rock ‘n’ roll bash. One for the history books.
And that’s how WLUW spent our Halloween
^ (Us leaving the show) ^