“It’s so awesome that you guys know the words!” gushed Shannon Shaw. “I used to sing at open mic nights and now you guys are singing my songs.” Her voice broke a little, just for a moment. But by the time she launched into her next number, it was back to its full bellow, and the crowd went crazy.
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Shaw is the Shannon, of course, in Shannon & the Clams, who played Saturday at 285 Kent. It was the second of the Oakland-based trio’s NYC area shows over the weekend, having played Friday at Mercury Lounge as well. The band is the perfect example of what can happen when musicians are earnest in their kitsch instead of embracing it for irony’s sake. The Clams live in their gimmicks so fully that it informs their performances and ignites their fans.
On Sunday, the band appeared onstage smeared in glitter. Guitarist Cody Blanchard (who also provides vocals) had pomaded his hair into a curlycue that flopped in the center of his forehead; later Shaw would tease him for sweating so much that the curl came out. Both Shaw and Blanchard wore matching red-and-white-striped button ups. Blanchard completed his look with a coordinating bow-tie, Shaw with a jumper and her signature bleached-blonde bob. And the music followed form; drummer Ian Amberson, seemingly dosed on about 7,000 5-hour energy shots, kept time to the band’s rolicking collection of surf-rock anthems, lovelorn garage numbers, and doo-wop throwbacks.
All of that was fun, for sure. But the transcendent moment came when one member of the audience hopped up on stage and dove off into the droves. It gave Shaw an idea. Before she introduced the next song she said, “If there’s anyone in the audience who’s never done a stage dive and wants to but is maybe a little afraid… can we make a safe space for them to do that?” And the sweaty mass obliged. The Clams launched into “I Don’t Wanna Be In A Cult No More” from 2011’s Sleep Talk, a fast-paced punk rock ditty, and the kids lined up. And they weren’t all shirtless boys (although there were a few of those too); there were more girl divers than I can ever remember seeing at a show. If a diver hesitated, arms from the audience would reach out and up, anticipating and encouraging the impending leap. No one was dropped or kicked in the head. Each person passed along in the sea of bodies looked ecstatic, aglow. “That was awesome,” Shaw stated when the song was over. It sounded like she was starting to get choked up again, but in the next moment she was belting out another rocking, rolling verse. And the adoring crowds kept surfing.