Shannon Shaw, vocalist and bassist for Shannon and the Clams, embarked on a tour supporting her debut solo record, Shannon in Nashville, this May.
As discussed in my review of Vundabar’s Vancouver show in February, the Fox Cabaret is a historic porn-theater-turned-music-venue in the city’s hip Mount Pleasant neighborhood. On May 9th, the Fox played host to Shannon Shaw and her band – Jose Boyer, Mark Cisneros, Garett Goddard, and Andrea Scanniello – for the first headlining show of their May tour. Shaw, frontwoman and founding member of Oakland’s ’60s-inspired garage rock outfit Shannon and the Clams, was north of the border to promote her solo record, Shannon in Nashville, released last June.
I arrived at the Fox just after 10:00, and Shannon and the band took the stage right on schedule around 10:30. Visually, they looked every bit as glamorous as I’d expected, given what I know about Shannon and the Clams’ stage presence.
I imagine jeans and t-shirts are comfortable to play in, and giving no care to what you look like on stage might be “punk rock”, but there’s a certain magic in a band coordinating their wardrobe around a specific style to really cultivate an image.
Shaw herself was in her usual pinafore dress getup, complete with sparkly suspenders and guitar-shaped enamel pins on her collar. Her glittery black bass, which I recognized from the Shannon and the Clams show at the Belly Up Tavern that I attended last year, sat waiting at the back of the stage. Her bandmates were equally done up: Boyer, Cisneros, and Scanniello donned similarly adorned Mariachi band-esque jackets, and Goddard was rocking a neck scarf and an impressive handlebar moustache. Their outfits’ consistent color palette of red and black seemed intentional, given the venue’s similarly colored decor.
If you’re a fan of Shannon and the Clams’ retro, ’60s girl group vibe, you’ll find a bit of it here.
Shaw’s solo work maintains the dreamy, nostalgic feelings that the Clams’ shows evoke, and the individuals in attendance at this show were clearly here for that. A mix of twentysomething hipsters and over-fifty eccentrics made up the Thursday night crowd, bonded in their tattoos and ironic facial hair. A John Waters lookalike, complete with the iconic pencil moustache, towered over us all from a few rows back. A fitting character in the scene, as Shannon and the Clams have been described as “something from a John Waters lucid dream”.
The set began with “Golden Frames”, the opening track from Shannon in Nashville. This song set the mood for the night: a vintage-inspired, heartfelt soundtrack to sway along to, as sparkly and captivating as Shaw’s bass guitar. After “Golden Frames”, I turned to my friend and made the following very astute observation: “She’s really good”. My KCR reviews might be 2000+ words, but I’m clearly a lot more concise in person.
The consistent use of keyboards and the inclusion of a trumpet during “Leather, Metal, Steel” added to the unique, enchanting sound of the night’s entertainment.
Shannon played through eleven other songs from her album, taking occasional breaks to chat with the audience about the weather, the venue, and the “haunted” whisky bar at which she and the band had been treated to dinner before the show. “Coal on the Fire”, the closing track on Shannon in Nashville, was perhaps the most Nashville-esque song that she performed for us. Its jangling, old-school-country inspired sound was the most danceable of the night. “Cold Pillows”, with its heartbreaking lyrics and group harmonies, was clearly inspired by girl groups of the 1960s.
To the best of my recollection, Shaw performed every song from the record except for “Lord of Alaska”, likely to the dismay of the person who requested it for the encore. She concluded her set with “Cryin’ My Eyes Out”, dedicating it to her father and asking that we send him positive energy. This was one of my favorite songs of the night, and the importance of the song to Shaw was clear to all of us.
I find that the Clams’ instrumentals, which lean more towards a doo-wop/surf sound than Shaw’s solo work, sometimes mask the underlying emotion of their songs’ lyrics with an inherent danceability. That’s not a bad thing, but at this show, Shaw’s raw feelings took center stage both in her lyrics and in her delivery. She’s an incredible vocalist, and the combination of her words and her powerful, soulful voice had me mesmerized in the front row.
I’ve noticed that my music taste seems to be going through a transitionary period in recent months. I used to consider myself more of a music person than a lyrics person, caring more about the energy of a live show than about the message a song was trying to convey to me. I was happy to mosh along to songs like “Cheap Beer” by FIDLAR and leave a show covered in a hundred other people’s sweat. Now, I find myself overcome with emotion when listening to “Holy Shit” by Father John Misty and being brought to almost-tears while dancing to “Someday” at the Growlers’ Snow Ball III show.
The only prerequisite for the music I’m currently obsessing over is that it must break my heart.
The point is, I think Shannon Shaw’s performance resonated more with me now than it would have if I’d seen this show a year ago. I guess context is key: sometimes, a fun punk show is all I’m looking for. But when I’m feeling a bit lost, swaying along to songs about unrequited love and loss can be cathartic. Anyway, I digress. This is supposed to be a show review, not a diary entry. Do I understand the difference? Probably not.
I’ve praised Shannon and the Clams before on this blog, calling them one of the most underrated bands of our time (and I am such an authority on the matter). Onion, their sixth studio album released last February, was one of my favorite records of 2018. Both Onion and Shannon in Nashville were produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, so I suppose it’s understandable that I’m also a big fan of Shaw’s solo record.
This brand of garage rock that Shaw has created, refined, and propagated throughout her different projects is just so unlike anything else in the music scene these days, and I’ve yet to find anyone else that comes close to imitating it.
I don’t want this review to read like an essay comparing Shannon’s sound to that of her other band, but I think the comparison is somewhat inevitable, given how integral she is to the Clams. This show was certainly as fun as the Shannon and the Clams show I attended, but it also felt like we were sharing something special as Shannon poured her soul out to us on stage. I guess my final verdict is this: if you like Shannon and the Clams, you’ll like Shannon Shaw. I mean, you already do. So is her solo stuff just more of the same? No, but it retains all the best parts of what we already know and love.