The Clean, Boogarins
Cat’s Cradle Back Room, Carrboro
Monday, August 25, 2014

“What should we do?” asked David Kilgour about four songs into a set by The Clean at the Cradle’s Back Room. “Do we want noise or a pop song?”

The audience wanted both, of course, and The Clean gave it to them. But first they settled on a pop song, “Drawing to a Whole” from 1990’s Vehicle. That release—the first full-length by this influential New Zealand trio—was the moment when the band coalesced into the long-standing and still current lineup of the brothers Hamish and David Kilgour, who founded the group in 1978, and bassist/vocalist Robert Scott.

The Kilgours are a rare thing: rock siblings who not only still speak to each other, but every three years or so, even tour together. Hamish sings and plays stealthy drums; you can barely see his hands move. David Kilgour, with Lou Reed sunglasses and an occasional Elvis sneer, is the extrovert, flailing his tremolo arm and working through multiple levels of guitar frequencies. At stage left, Scott is a genial presence whose rumbling, round-toned bass lines provide the fulcrum on which this trio pivots. He took lead vocals on a few songs, including the luminous “I Wait Around,” but mostly it was the peculiarly beguiling mix of the two Kilgour voices that carried the evening.

While The Clean has been recognized for its influence on any number of vital indie bands, this is now a part-time thing. All three members are active with their own projects, and two of them do a lot of painting. They tour when the stars align, or when they have a record to support. In this case, the record in question is Merge’s recently released Anthology, including a quadruple vinyl edition, which provides the essential early tracks along with a generous helping of the band’s ’90s output.

Fittingly, the set mirrored that mix. Providing the backbone were the classics, from the joyous single that started it all, “Tally Ho,” to the wistful, Byrds-channeling “Anything Could Happen” to the astounding VU-meets-motorik “Point That Thing Somewhere Else,” with David Kilgour unleashing trem-picked lines that would have pleased Dick Dale. Toward the end, they played another early nugget, “Getting Older,” a song whose chorus of “Why don’t you do yourself in?” shouldn’t sound remotely as life-affirming as it does. The closer was the fragile, hymn-like “Safe in the Rain,” from 1995’s Modern Rock, graced by Kilgour’s jewel-toned lines, which recalled his paintings.

In the opening slot, Boogarins, four young guys from Goiânia in central Brazil, had more in common with a 36-year-old band from Dunedin, New Zealand, than one might expect. For one, they share the headliners’ love of psychedelia and the exploratory tendrils of expansive guitar. More broadly, there’s the ineffable swing that comes from making music together that cannot be taught; both bands revel in it. When The Clean simply appeared on the stage and began making bumptious feedback that became a slow-burn, there was a sense of continuance between the headliners and openers.

But where The Clean balance short, sharp pop songs with extended excursions, Boogarins are down for interstellar travel from the get-go, drawing on songs from last year’s As Plantes Que Curam (“plants that heal”) in extended treatments that added complexity to already complex songs. To hear lead singer/co-founder Fernando “Dino” Almeida tell it, it’s just a way of keeping things interesting. “We’ve been playing and touring non-stop,” he said. “We don’t want to play the same thing over and over.” Asked how they manage to turn these tough changes in unison, he said it comes down to a look exchanged, or a mouthing of the number “4”—and they’ll know what to do.

From their basement origins, Boogarins has progressed audaciously since making a vital connection with Carrboro music fans a few years ago. They’ve just returned from several dates in Europe—a few with Guided By Voices—and have upcoming slots on the undercard for Neutral Milk Hotel. Not too shabby for a band that formed unassumingly by two high school kids.