BEING THERE: Shannon & The Clams @ First Unitarian



Last night, the kitschy-cool underground of Philadelphia gathered at First Unitarian to worship at the altar of Shannon & The Clams, one of the only modern bands whose sound is a manifestation of a rock and roll that reaches from the Ronettes to The Clash, and everything that’s followed. The sold-out crowd was dappled with heads of hair as vibrantly colorful as the wigs in the video for “Backstreets” (see below) off their new LP, Onion. Crowned in shades of lavender and burnt orange and neon green, fans of the Oakland retro rockers dressed in loud sartorial crossovers of flared houndstooth pants, turquoise sequined dresses, and studded leather jackets.

But for all their elements of nostalgia, Shannon & The Clams are never stale. Immediately plunging into the dreamy opening strum of “The Boy,” the foursome sent the crowd off into an eternal sway that matched the pace of guitarist Cody Blanchard’s own rhythmic toe-tapping. With a thin Little-Richards-like mustache penciled above his upper lip, Blanchard screamed out high notes in the song that I had originally mistaken for bassist Shannon Shaw’s voice in the recordings. Reaching back to prior albums Gone by the Dawn, Dreams in the Rat House, and Sleep Talk, the set included intoxicatingly smooth pop tones like “I Will Miss the Jasmine,” and the driving punk drumbeat behind tunes like “You Will Always Bring Me Flowers.”

Fresh tracks like “Love Strike,” “It’s Gonna Go Away,” and “Backstreets,” off of Onion were undoubtedly the hottest of the night, with the band still visibly relishing their sparkly Zombies-like newness. But the setlist also included covers of The Misfits’ “Angel Fuck,” Zager & Evans’ “In the Year 2525,” and a room-shaking homage to fellow Californians Jefferson Airplane with “White Rabbit.” Rarely pausing for longer than a few words of thanks between songs, the Clams accelerated through swinging crowd pleasers like “Rip Van Winkle,” and “Ozma,” before settling on the prom-slow-dance doowop of “Did You Love Me.”

When it was all over, the crowd’s demands for more brought the band back on stage for a two-song encore of “If You Could Know,” and “Onion.” Each complemented the other, the first being “a song about happiness in life,” as Shaw put it, and the second about searching for deeper problems within ourselves in order to remedy them. The organ riffs behind the self-help mantra of the latter incited a writhing mosh pit of John Waters characters, everyone twisting about in an unashamed expression of their loudest selves.

After a punchy opening set from charmingly degenerate locals, The Tough Shits [arguably one of the greatest band names in the history of bad attitude rock n’ roll. — The Ed.] , and one from Dirty Fences that featured a surprise appearance of Tina Halladay from Sheer Mag, fans found a collective comfort in each other, one that this church basement always seems to inspire. Shaw herself noted this rare magic, thanking the Unitarians for allowing such wild and free self-expression, even if it differed from their own personal views. Half of this band’s appeal is their energetic love for the foundation of a genre that’s too often pushed to the sidelines of popular culture, but the other is the diverse community of personalities that gather around it – a combination of blue lipstick, vintage keyboards, and a punk mentality that make everyone in its presence unafraid to peel back the layers of their own metaphorical onions. — SOPHIE BURKHOLDER