Suave and supremely confident: Shannon and the Clams

Shannon and the Clams barely squeezed in a hello before launching into a set of garage-infused ‘60s power ballads that proved intoxicating and all-too-brief. It was the Clams’ first appearance in Asheville, brought on by a tour promoting their third and newest album Dreams in the Rat House.

The Oakland-based trio, armed only with a bass, guitar and drums, made short work of rousing a largely untapped audience, who in all likelihood came out to see Mikal Cronin at The Emerald Lounge last weekend. But, even as support, the Clams’ performance came across like a headliner act.

The Clams were suave and supremely confident, yet sublimely humble as they worked through a set list that laced songs from their first two albums, Sleepwalk and I Wanna Go Home, in between new tunes. Percussionist Nate Mayhem’s drums leapt through chants and high-pitched yelps while Cody Blanchard’s tactile-yet-sporadic guitar was chased and periodically followed by Shannon Shaw’s vocals and lullaby-like melodies.

The trio bobbed, shifted and swayed through the performance, bending into each and every note as if the music welled up from within. Which it was.

Blanchard’s treble-heavy guitar arced through cross-picked and high-pitched melodies that gave a playful background to Shaw’s vocal range. In “Ozma” he led a subdued line coerced by Mayhem’s down-beat and drones. It stayed low while Shaw’s voice dove in and out of the highs and lows, only to surface at the end with three times’ the sound and fury.

Likewise, Shaw’s voice stretched through octaves left untouched by most, but famously capitalized on by the likes of the leading ladies of jazz age. (Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” anybody?) She forcefully strained notes and a few words, hoos and haas through a fuzzy microphone. But vocal disparity reigned supreme. In an instant she’d drop into a sweet, almost sullen hymnal, as in “Into a Dream.” It was as if she was hiding some reservoir of operatic skill, releasing bits here and there.

“Rip Van Winkle,” one of the singles released before Dreams’ debut, popped up and down through ‘60s-era guitar work tinged with garage rock and steady tambourine. “You Will Always Bring Me Flowers” followed in suit with the hybridized oldies, draped in California punk and a little bit of surf. Blanchard and Mayhem continually compliment Shaw’s voice as it climbed higher and higher throughout the song, plateauing on the chorus and ending in an all-out scream at the end.

The set ended with two of their oldies. On “Cry Aye Aye Aye,” a slow take on an electrified ‘50/60s prom-worthy ballad, Shaw’s voice lay low, moving alongside Blanchard’s guitar, which sported a delay. But of course, they couldn’t contain that for too long. The song built and built, tapering off for a second before rupturing into static before settling back to a slow, soft-spoken finish. “Toublemaker” exploded from the get go, rounding out the set in a moment of pure energy. All three members were at full throttle for that high-tensile, fast-paced declaration as if purposely prepping the audience for the next show. Which is exactly what opening bands are supposed to do: showcase, excite and prepare.

Photo from the band’s Facebook page.

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