It could be the atomic-‘50s glitz, the makeup, suspenders and pencil-thin mustache that make Shannon and the Clams come across like a John Waters-picked power trio. Or maybe it’s the teased-out, big-haired blonde (Shannon Shaw) who wails into oblivion, hitting high notes in fits of fury and excitement. They crackle the speakers, only to be followed by deep bellows that shake the walls and still the room.
Whatever it is, Shannon and the Clams’ pared-down, three-piece setup manages to hybridize entire decades into a single, frenetic beast. They’re an R&B-tinged, soul-swingin’ Oakland rock ’n’ roll band. Think retro garage-punk combined with deep roots in coastal California vintage surf-rock with a ton of reverb. Their newest album, Dreams in the Rat House, debuted May 21 on Seattle-based label Hardly Art Records.
Lyrics dive through deranged dreams, rousing some sleeping beast as Shaw’s voice filters through a static-y mic and falls in love, if only for the moment. Guitarist Cody Blanchard’s high-pitched melodies jump up and down behind Shaw’s voice in songs like “Rip Van Winkle” and “Ozma” before diving into frantic and increasingly louder power chords backed by Ian Amberson’s tidal drums. Shaw’s voice is echoed by a ‘50s-esque chorus in this doo-wop ditty, chanting “awwww-o-awww-o.” Mantras like “Bed Rock” have the band chanting over droning, punked-up drums. Then there’s the album’s capstone: a cover of Del Shannon’s hit “Runaway.” It’s sped up a step and far more haunting and contemplative than the “other” Shannon’s 1961 take. The Clams’ choral “waa-waa-waas,” return to finish the album off.
The band’s cross-country tour to promote Dreams in the Rat House brings them to the Emerald Lounge on Saturday, June 22, where they’ll open for Mikal Cronin. — Kyle Sherard