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Concert Review: The Clientele at The Earl, Feb. 25, 2010, Atlanta, GA

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The evening of Feb. 25 was cool and crisp in Atlanta, creating a perfect reason to warm up to the sounds of London-based band the Clientele. Nestled in the arts-friendly neighborhood of East Atlanta, the Earl was packed with those seeking the Clientele’s warmth (and maybe a beer or two).

Indie folk San Franciscans Vetiver kicked off the night, showcasing their country-informed pop tunes. The band captivated the audience, which danced and sang along to the up-tempo numbers and quieted down to let the acoustic tunes be heard.

The Clientele played a selection of songs culled from their consistently satisfying catalog, with the bulk of tunes coming from their latest album, Bonfires on the Heath. Lead singer and songwriter Alasdair MacLean’s airy vocals floated through the reverb-drenched four piece on new favorites like “Bonfires on the Heath” and “I Wonder Who We Are”.

The baroque sound of the Clientele’s recorded material was exchanged for a sparser live version, aided in large part by multi-instrumentalist and singer Mel Draisey. Her additions, such as the ringing xylophone in “Since K Got Over Me”, provided atmospheric highlights to the steady rhythm section and electric guitar. Draisey, who has also played with Peter Bjorn and John and Primal Scream, shifted between keyboard, violin, xylophone and backing vocals as a perfect complement to the band’s intricate style.

New standout track, “Harvest Time,” benefited from the sparse instrumentation, which allowed MacLean’s vibrant, finger-picked guitar to melt into the mix of piano and sitar. His voice, along with the accompanying harmonies from drummer Mark Keen and Draisey, evoked the uniquely haunting nature of his lyrics: “Bats from the eaves go shivering by / Scarecrows watch the verges of light / I hear a choir on the heath at night / But no one’s there”.

Despite being blasted a few times by feedback from the house PA system, the Clientele deftly delivered their delicate and distinctively British music to an enthusiastic crowd. The intimate atmosphere helped showcase the integral, melodic bass lines of James Hornsey as well as MacLean’s steadily fingerpicked guitar.

After an hour-long set and encore, the satisfied crowd shuffled back into the cold night, like the last lines from “Harvest Time” predict: “Everything here has a place and a time / We’re only passing by”. Hopefully they’ll pass by again very soon.

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