Possibly the most unexpected sight tonight in Liverpool’s Invisible Wind Factory was the queue for the gents, noticeably longer than the queue for the ladies. That a band like Dry Cleaning would attract such a volume of middle-aged men with weak bladders could easily be the topic of one of their songs.
The surreal nature of their output was mirrored in the strangely muted audience who appeared slightly more raucous during the tight supporting set from Dehd, the Chicago 3 piece who fall somewhere between The Soft Pack and Hole. Spiky guitars and grungy basslines with a distinctly 90s early 2000s retro sensibility. A great support to be fair, who we discover had been out laser-questing with the main act on tour.
Perhaps muted is unfair, focused could be a more apt description. When Dry Cleaning take to the stage they bring with them an intensity that I’ve not felt in a long while that wholly draws you in. Florence Shaw’s friendly demeanour soon vanishes as they kick off with “Kwenchy Kups“, and the character of the slightly fed up, sarcastic observer takes over. It is difficult not to stare as her eyeballs roll up to deathly white orbs and her body language becomes almost supernatural at times.
“Kwenchy Kups” is a perfect starting point to Dry Cleaning novices as Florence, much like Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson of whom she has recently collaborated, delivers hilarious lines regarding the most serious or mundane of events. Her monotone deadpan delivery is perfect in lines such as “Life is shit but we’re going to see the otters/ There are no otters/ There are, and we’re going to see the water caterpillar.” It’s a conversation with herself to a point, someone else is in there but does it matter?
Her conversational tone has drawn obvious comparisons with Wet Leg, and there does appear to be a good few acts who have taken on this style of late. I can’t help feeling though that while Wet Leg are basking in the reflection of their many awards in the last year or so, Dry Cleaning are the better band and have been a little overlooked. The lyrics are certainly stronger and wittier and there is less of that silliness that grates after a while with Wet Leg. They are certainly less of a Marmite band.
That point aside, “Gary Ashby” is very daft, but wonderful in equal measure. Catchy as hell, this is a love song to a tortoise (with stumpy legs and a tin foil football) and along with “Kwenchy Kups” provides an upbeat start to what does feel like a dark set once it settles in. The poppier moments echo the jangly guitar lines of The Smiths, particularly on tracks from Stumpwork, their second and so far, best album to date.
The darker songs however bring a heavier sound, beautifully intensified by those witchy movements from Florence and a brilliantly designed lightshow. At times the intensity of the music drowns out some of the inspired vocals that illustrate their recorded work, but as a live band, they are, at times breath-taking.
“Scratchcard Lanyard” follows and reminds us of the first time many of us became aware of the band due to its seemingly endless airplay on 6Music at the time. From then on it is a set of album tracks and early E.P cuts, that showcase an impressive collection of work from a band only two albums in.
Florence communicates little between songs and this is pointed out by a man who clearly doesn’t get that this is how they work to create an atmosphere, calling out “Why don’t you talk between the songs so that we know what songs we’re listening to” Unwanted advice from a classic real-life Alan Partridge.
Heavy instrumental work crops up often in tracks where you least expect them with Florence kneeling down and allowing the band some attention. There is often variation from the more uniform album versions, and this is much needed as I feel a whole set would become restricted from just faithful re-tellings of the work.
An encore brings us “Liberty Log” and the most recent album opener, “Anna Calls from the Arctic”. The fact that the band still sound as fresh at the end of the gig, the encore really does feel like they are starting a whole new set, is testament to the polish that they already have achieved and the energy that they maintain.
Dry Cleaning can only go from strength to strength. As tight lyrically as they are musically, their awards and accolades will come, whether they want them or not.
For now, this celebration of social realism with deadpan humour will keep us happy and looking forward to further kitchen sink adventures.
Apologies to first support Thus Love who we sadly missed.
Words by Del Pike.