Clem Snide: Your Favorite Music

Clem Snide at the Abbey Pub in Chicago. April 6, 2002

By Derek Phillips

Pop quiz:

Clem Snide is the greatest…

a) Pop band in the world

b) Bar band in the world

c) Indie rock band in the world

d) All of the above

Clem Snide is a band people can obsess over, and many do. Fronted by the impossibly witty (and nearly as good looking) Eef Barzelay, Clem Snide mixes elements of pop, indie rock and Americana to create a sound immediately recognizable as their own, and that’s rare in a world of imposters. When a band like this comes around, people who obsess over music, like me, will do what it takes to catch them live and see if they live up to the glory they pressed into vinyl.

The Abbey Pub in Chicago is one of those venues that makes you pay for what you get. Not just the cover, mind you, but the actual process of getting in can be excruciatingly long, especially with the wet wind of early April kicking up. One bespeckled guy with comically thick glasses at the door checking every ID, every credit card (for online ticket purchasers) and every red cent of cash changing hands made for a two or three minute transaction per person. Figure on 250 to 300 people at the door and you can see how long you’re gonna wait in the cold.

But we got there early and suffered through two completely forgettable opening acts who labored through their sets to a mostly un-attentive crowd. I have sympathy for opening acts but not much patience.

Clem SnideFinally Clem Snide took the stage and opened with “Let’s Explode,” (incorrect, see comments—ed.) which is also the opening number of the fantastic Ghost of Fashion. The band’s been getting some attention of late. Their song “Moment in the Sun” is featured as the theme song to NBC’s “Ed” and they made countless critics’ “Best of…” lists in the last few years. But how many bands get critical acclaim and press attention only to let you down live? Clem Snide backs their material with a live performance that’s as good as a money-back guarantee. The era of live performance is making another cameo and Clem Snide is a star attraction.

The sound was great, to the Abbey’s credit, and the band was tight. Guitarist Pete Fitzpatrick painted the songs with imaginative guitar work incorporating violin bows (decidedly NOT like Jimmy Page) and drums sticks on strings. Picking up the Banjo, Fitzpatrick infused electro-hillbilly noise elements to the already unpredictable song structures and twists of phrases that have made Clem Snide the beau of all indie rock balls. Eric Paull and Jeff Marshall make up the rhythm section and gave the band enough push from the rear to keep bounce hipster heads throughout the set. And the hipsters were out and vocal as usual.

Chicago is known for heckling. It’s just the way it goes. From riots in Grant Park when the MC5 spouted too much talk and not enough rock to Ryan Adams’ public tantrums when unoriginal mooks request “Cuts like a Knife” at the hyper-sensitive alt-country balladeer’s shows. It’s our heritage and if you’re in a band and you come to Chicago, you better come heavy.

With over ten years of road training under their belt, Clem Snide is well adapted to handle the friendly jabs and biting remarks of skeptical crowds. They easily managed the Abbey Pub with engaging banter, a laid-back demeanor and enthralling performance. That’s a bit flowery, I know, but this was a show that surprised me — a big fan of Clem Snide — with an agility I didn’t anticipate. Note: when confronted with the inevitable and painfully boring “Play Freebird!” the band simply plowed on, ignoring the plea entirely. But it wasn’t lost on the band and to prove it they ended their set with a version of Skynard’s “Simple Man” that stripped the song of its anthemic bravado and transformed it into a Sonic Youth outtake. That takes balls and Clem Snide’s got ’em.

It would be easy for Clem Snide to rest on their critical accolades and Eef’s good looks, but this is a band of substance and that is worth more than “Best of…” lists or panties in the footlights. Well…

The answer to the above quiz in next week’s GLONO.

29 thoughts on “Clem Snide: Your Favorite Music”

  1. Now that I think about it (with a more sober mind) they did not open with “Let’s Explode” but with Eef alone at the mic singing a song I didn’t recognize. Anyone out there know what it was??

  2. Wasn’t it just an a capella version of “The Curse of Great Beauty”? Lyrics:Your tooth ache an ivory towerso let down your long perfect legsI’ll untie the knots with my lips and my tongueand rub Ambisol into your hair’Cause those paper cuts kept you from writinga poem so epic and trueabout how you are cursedwith a beauty so greatI’m sure that it’s hard being youSo put down that book it’s too seriousI’ll undress you as I make a jokebut please try not to laughas I swim in your fleshjust hold your breath ’til I finishSo explain it again to me slowlyabout the physical world that you transcendI’ll just watch your lips and your perfect white teethand the cigarette that doesn’t belong there

  3. Upcoming full-band performances! 04/08 Madison, WI – Luther’s Blues, 1401 University Ave – (608) 513-2217 – 21+ Tomorrow! 04/09 Indianapolis, IN – Birdy’s, 2131 E. 71st Street – (317) 254-8971 – 21+04/10 Champaign, IL – High Dive, 51 Main Street – (217) 356-2337 – 19+ 04/11 Louisville, KY – Barretone’s, 1012 Barret Street – (502) 485-0925 – 21+04/12 Detroit, MI – Magic Stick, 4120-4140 Woodward Avenue – (313) 833-766504/13 Toronto, Canada – Horseshoe Tavern, 370 Queen Street West – (416) 598-475304/15 Ottawa, Canada – Zaphod Beeblebrox, 27 York Street – (613) 562-101004/16 Brooklyn, NY – Warsaw, 261 Driggs Ave, Williamsburgh – (718) 387-5252 – All Ages (with Martha Wainwright (yes from THAT family), The National and emcee Eugene Mirman (from Comedy Central’s “Premium Blend”)

  4. Props on the Clem Snide review. I saw them here in Winston-Salem, NC at a pretty intimate venue last month and they kicked my ass. If you just read the lyrics out loud without hearing them in their proper context, they come off at times as too clever by half. In the correct setting though (I recommend listening while driving on a rainy night), they grab you and make you care. If you still doubt, check out the song above and its companion piece, “Joan Jett of Arc.”Here’s something near and dear to the powers that be at GloNo; what about a collaboration between Jeff Tweedy/Wilco and Eef Barzelay? Egos could clash, but I would love to hear the spawn of two of the best lyricists of this generation. BTW, has a very nice live version of “The Curse Of Great Beauty” available for download.

  5. Tweedy and Eef? My head may explode fi that ever happens.I agree with you about the lyrics. On the surface and out of context they may turn some folks off as just a tad too smart or clever like you said. I think that’s often the case with lyricist who really put a lot of thought into what they’re saying and how they can say it differently. Look at Morrissey. Out of context the lyrics lean a bit too heavily toward Oscar Wilde but within the realm of the Smiths they really came together as something new.

  6. Oh my…you described the Abbey’s door guy DEAD ON! I went and bought my ticket but wanted to go back to the pub part so I asked him to stamp my hand. He rolled his eyes like I was asking for the moon. He scares me.

  7. True dat, DP, but peep dis (sorry, I always wanted to use that exact phrase, but never quite found the right place for it). Morrissey/Smiths lyrics held an appeal for the pubescent ones back in the day who would now be grooving out to Linkin Park and Dashboard Confessional (On their more introspective days, anyway.) It seems like the better singer-songwriters of the last few years have almost subconsciously steeped their lyrics in a coat of irony or outright abstractness to ward off the younger fanboys/girls. Has it gone too far? Is it asking too much now to hope a 15 year-old can get into Wilco, Clem Snide, Built To Spill, Magnetic Fields or anyone else current who has something to say without rubbing it square in your face? I hope not, but I worry still. GloNo readers (not to steal any thunder from our esteemed editors, but) what can be done? If this is only read by one of the editors, please, please, please, pose this question in some form eventually. We (my fellow readers. I hope and pray) aren’t elitists; we just know how much brilliant pop/rock/hip-hop/country/etc music can enrich one’s life and want to see it happen for others. Does it start small and snowball? Are some people just “destined” to find fulfillment in music while others are satisfied with KISS 9xx.x while they die in their cubicles? Or are we here just lucky?Anyway, GloNo has a bully pulpit and a discerning readership who could really do something with this if a coherent answer were forthcoming. I think it’s a question worth posing and a cause worth forming a street team for if a suitable answer is ever found.EEE

  8. Good introductory album for me to pick up? I was listening to NPR one afternoon and they did an interview with these guys about the songwriting process for the Ed song. They apparently were just asked for a song with no definition as to what direction it should take. Well, I guess their first effort was rejected because it was too directly about the show so they went back to the drawing board. Then on NPR they played snippets of three different songs they intended to submit. I’m curious to hear which one made the cut.

  9. Elliot, here’s my take on your comments.Kids are inexperienced and ignorant. You can’t expect them, in massive numbers, to understand some things. In fact, that makes them just like adults, which is interesting because they quickly become adults.I’ve often heard people mention bands like the Smiths or Wilco (hey look, I put Wilco and the Smiths in the same sentence) while wondering why kids listen mostly to crap such as Creed, Incubus or Lickin Park. Truth is that kids don’t know any better. At least most of them don’t. When the Smiths were together almost no one listened to them here in the USA. Back in 1984 when we were listening The Smiths on cassette, I remember wondering aloud “why don’t more people listen to Gen X instead of REO?”Go figure! As far as I’m concerned, I’d rather that most people walk around like stupid fools. It makes my elitist life that much more secure and helps me to pump up my ego. Afterall, if everyone understood “Ghost World,” it wouldn’t be cool, and all the context for cool would be gone.

  10. Well, Scotty, back in ’84, I was still in short pants, Mousercizing, but the analogy is still valid, I suppose. Your explanation is kind of a circular argument though. What I’m really after is more a practical way to make good music non-elitist, rather than just an academic exercise here (though I am up for esoteric discussions.) Of course, music itself can’t be elitist, but when the listeners hold that attitude it just turns away potential fans. One of the most important traits of fine music, I hold, is its ability to bring differently-situated, but ultimately like-minded people together. That’s why people who consider themselves part of some local “scene” piss me off so much. Your neighborhood indie kids heaping scorn upon the guy in pressed khakis at the basement show are really just vicariously getting back at the dicks who made their lives hell in high school. Personally, I just try to expose as many Creed-listening acquaintences as I can to something that may give them a little deeper feeling than that quasi-spiritual garbage. Throw a handful at the wall and hope some of it sticks is my M.O. If you take some kind of self-satisfaction in being a fan of the “right” music and somehow turn others off from it as a result, that serves neither you, anyone else, or the art. After all, if you like a band and want them to continue, you should hold up your end of the bargain and spread the word. Anyway, that’s just my philosophy. Thrift-store junkie Modest Mouse fans the world over may disagree.

  11. I like what you’re sayin’, Elliot. If you don’t mind, it inspires me to write the following. Well, even it you do mind, here it is. But there is certainly no “right” music. No one is wrong for listening to what they like to listen to. Picking on people doesn’t serve anybody. Picking on the system, now that’s something worth doing. Because there is so much good music that people don’t get to hear because of the communication avenues that have been set up. People who make big decisions that line their own pockets, but have the effect of clogging up public avenues of music awareness with calculated, canned, product, THOSE are the people who should be picked on, mercilessly. Because they’re taking the sacred and making it profane. And maybe this is just one guy talking who likes a little more from his music, but you know what, FUCK THEM because if they are going to market their shit to me, in ways I can’t even prevent without living on a goddamn island, they are going to get lip from me. (Granted they’ll never hear it over the cacophonous clinking of coin) Sorry I get a little worked up, but it is literally a war out there over who gets access to your mind and access to your fucking wallet. The local scenes and places where the plebes can share music, the show that Helen described in her Glorious Noise column, those local shows are COMPLETELY where its at, except for one major label exception: the Flamin’ Groovies whose greatest hits record is the best thing on Sire and the best thing ever heard by human ears. So you see here I am using this medium to plug what I like. I guess no one is above it. We’re all human. Sometimes it seems hard to blame anybody, including those entertainment giant bozos. No one is above this commercial mud pit. We all have our tastes and we’re all in it.

  12. You wanna hear something funny, I think “Ed” sucks, and I thought the opening song from “Ed” sucks, then my friend put “Moment in the Sun” on a mix CD for me and I heard some other part of it, the “LAAA….LA LA LA, LA LA” part and totally thought it was a great song, I completely did not make the connection that this is also the song that is on “Ed” and which I thought sucks.

  13. That song, “Moment in the Sun,” was apparently written in response to Jewel. At least that’s what Eef said on Saturday. And if you listen to the lyrics, you can hear it and it’s funny:When it’s my moment in the sunOh, how beautiful I’ll beBut in a normal sort of wayLike I am you and you are me’Cause I have a lot of things to sayAnd you’d be wise to listen goodI think that hunger, war, and deathare bringin’ everybody downWhen it’s my moment in the sunI’ll share my problems with the worldand pschychosomatically I’ll singto god and all his pretty girlsWhen it’s my moment in the sunI won’t forget that I am blessedbut every hero walks alonethinking of more things to confess

  14. [Your last line cracked me up, Elliot.]I checked out the link (thx Jake)….they are cool, Derek, you street teamer you. The Abbey has been getting some awesome bands lately….I just wish the stage were higher for us vertically challenged. (And they better get some Red Bull.)

  15. I just wanna say 1) Jake, you have an amazing memory, and 2) kids are NOT stupid, they’re just deprived. Remember how you listened to whatever your peers were listening to, and sometimes your only exposure to more sophisticated music was through your older siblings? And at some point it made you cool, even though you hated your older sibling/s throughout your own teenagehood? It’s a question of what you’re exposed to, what you have access to, and that’s the problem. Even here in NY, I asked for the Mountain Goats at Tower and Barnes & Noble — okay, maybe the last shouldn’t have been a surprise, but no one had them in stock. But THEN, shocker, Other Music didn’t have them either. The market is so undependable… I don’t know what I’m saying anymore. But this discussion reminds me of something Paul Westerberg said about why the Replacements weren’t more popular: “Why can some people like us SO much and so many other people not even like us a little?” Why isn’t there a trickle-down effect, I think he meant. And that remains a puzzler. Paul said he wouldn’t worry about it for the rest of his life, but I bet he has, or an awful lot, anyway. Why REM, not them? Why Beck, not Pavement? It’s not like REM and Beck are never ironic or clever, though they’re not really nearly as clever as the other two bands/lyricists. Well, I guess they have all those sugary melodies and/or cool beats and stuff. Still. It’s weird.

  16. Did someone say kids are stupid? I don’t know, my memory’s not that amazing, but anyway. Kristy you are 1.) Maybe right – I have no idea, and 2.)definitely right. My pops’ taste isn’t terribly unique, but I feel pretty fortunate that my first memories of music include him playing things like golden era Stones (68′-72′, and don’t argue because you all know I’m right,) various Talking Heads records and even the odd Johnny Cash or Police album. I’m thinking more and more that growing up around people who give a damn about music is far more important than what the media conglomerates do or don’t make widely available. A lot of great stuff gets squashed, but it would not be impossible to build a respectable collection out of only major-label releases. If the appreciation for unique and not-so-mainstream music isn’t there in some fashion to begin with, it makes no difference whether that stuff is high-profile or not. Once a band’s availability crosses a certain threshold, the people who will appreciate it will find it one way or another. That may not be much consolation for Paul Westerberg or the three ex-members of Pavement no one gives a damn about, but that’s the way it is. I’m just as guilty as anyone of bitching about some of my favorite bands not getting much exposure, so it’s not much comfort to me either.That revelation about the nature of “Moment In The Sun” is a hell of a relief. So appropriate too, but if you ignore the second and third verses, it’s not a bad song.

  17. Great discussion. Just thought I’d chime in. I came here for that amazing clem snide review and ended up reading all the comments. As for why the replacements and pavement didn’t become big and Beck and REM did is fairly simple in my mind. Neither the replacements nor pavement wanted to join the machine that is popular music. They turned down or blew every opportunity for commercial success that came to them. Pavement for a long time refused to be on the cover of rolling stone or interview with them because, (and I’m paraphrasing), they felt Rolling Stone “ignored the best music of his generation.” He’s right. They did. But he had a chance to expose people to his kind of music and his kind of thinking and he turned it down. Don’t shed a tear for them. I love them both, but I’m not going to join their pity party. Half the problem is that whenever an indie band or performer finds commercial success, they are dubbed as sellouts by their hipster following. This accusation is implicit in every major label defection, and is made without any regard to whether or not the band has actually changed its formula to become more successful. This crowd takes pleasure in the obscurity of the bands they like, and selfishly hopes the bands they like never become famous. (As someone more eloquently put it in a post above.)Granted, the big record companies are the biggest problem. But our indie idols aren’t without their share of blame, and neither are the elitist hipsters who Cake so accurately described in “rock and roll lifestyle”.”And how do you afford your rock and roll t-shirt that proves you were there, that you heard of them first.”Or something like that.

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