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Live Review: Shannon & The Clams @ Black Cat — 6/1/24

Everyone could learn a thing or two from Shannon Shaw.

The bass player and leader of Oakland-based Shannon & The Clams, she’s risen to prominence over the course of the past 15-plus years as she and her bandmates have developed their own formula to mix the desirous sounds of oldies R&B with lo-fi, trippy garage punk.

But what Shaw’s endured in recent times makes her one of the bravest human beings taking any stage today (and recently the Black Cat stage).

In 2022, she unexpectedly lost her fiancé and best friend, Joe Haener, as the result of a car accident. It was a tragedy for Shaw, as well as her bandmates and an entire Bay Area music scene that Haener helped shape as a drummer or percussionist for various outfits.

But Shaw’s bandmates rallied around her, and Shannon & The Clams put out their seventh studio album last month, The Moon Is In The Wrong Place. A magnificently thoughtful and illusory recording that pays tribute to their late friend and loved one, it also showcases the magic this group has discovered by staying together and caring for one another.

Fans, too, have convened on social media and in person to offer their support for Shaw and to show gratitude for the fact her band continues to make music.

The night of June 1, a line stretched from Black Cat to the S Street intersection in DC as ticketholders waited patiently for what turned out to be an emotionally vociferous and triumphant set of songs presented by Shannon & The Clams, and it would include a majority of those on the exemplary new record.

Listen to Shannon & The Clams’ new album, The Moon Is In The Wrong Place, via Spotify:

“God, it looks like there are a lot of people in here,” said Shaw, a native of the Napa Valley.

On tour to promote the new release, she was kicking off the month in the nation’s capital with her longtime squad: Cody Blanchard on vocals and electric guitar, Will Sprott on vocals and keys, and Nate Mahan on drums. Within a few minutes, Shaw was taken aback not just by the appearance of the storied venue but the spirit of those who’d made their way downtown to see her and her pals on a Saturday night.

“This is a very lively audience.”

It was difficult to hear her as shouts came from any angle. One for “OAKLAND” came in loud from way in the back.

“We love it.” Shaw was beginning to bask in it.

The group revealed its spontaneous synchronicity with favorites like “I Leave Again” from 2018’s Onion, which was produced by Dan Auerbach and released on his Easy Eye Sound label. Dressed in classy getups for the occasion and with decorative string beans illuminated on the microphone stands, the group showed off its style, too. Blanchard’s shoes were gold, sparkly; Shaw’s — bedecked with jewels.

“Sleep Talk,” the title track to the band’s 2011 album, rang out as a timeless emotional encounter, and its distant instrumentation combined with Shaw’s agony to make this is a throwback treat early in the night at Black Cat.

Blanchard would move about, emitting fuzz from his Fender and tiptoeing toward Sprott as they’d combine to power hypnotic pieces like “Midnight Wine” from 2021’s Year of the Spider and “The Hourglass,” one of the most introspective numbers from Moon.

As expected, “Bean Fields” pepped up the party with its strut and remarkable optimism — a truly splendid toast that heard Shaw extending her love for her late partner and connecting with his spirit in natural settings.

The new album’s title track, a dizzying and thunderous frenzy, demonstrated the speed of the whole band, including Shaw, who’s moody notes bely all the Clams tunes.

Shaw and Blanchard share lead vocals or co-harmonize in many of them, and these old pals are so akin in tone to just barely cross one another. In DC, their collective longing came through in songs like “The Boy” and later they combined to mystifying effect in “Dali’s Clock.”

Everyone in the place sand along for “Real or Magic,” and the cell phone flashlights were turned on for this heartbreaking grapple with the events that have transpired in Shaw’s life.

“Thank you little lightning bugs out there,” she said. “That was real cute.”

Revisit Shannon & The Clams’ 2018 Onion via Spotify:

Full of gratitude and visibly moved, Shaw’s delivery at Black Cat was consistently emphatic and gritty, and she was at her most incredible for “Ozma,” the popular hit from 2013’s Dreams in the Rat House. Throughout the night, she’d step away from her mic, toss her head back while still playing and close her eyes for a moment.

“Thank you all for your support,” said Shaw, who’s also in the queercore band Hunx & His Punx. “We feel it and appreciate it. … People singing along … that feels really fucking good. … Seriously you’re an amazing crowd. You guys rock.”

Sharing her sincere appreciation for its enthusiasm, Shaw and her friends sent the DC audience off with one of the most stunning and lovesick Clams songs to date. “Life Is Unfair,” as its title suggests, aptly summarizes Shaw’s state of mourning but hears her finding the strength to overcome it.

With a hard-won perspective, her words in this song’s chorus are nothing short of inspirational:

“Life is unfair / yet beautiful / Only ‘cause you were here.”

Setlist

I Leave Again
Sleep Talk
Bean Fields
Rip Van Winkle
It’s Too Late
Midnight Wine
Backstreets
The Vow
Hourglass
What You’re Missing
Point of Being Right
The Boy
The Moon Is In The Wrong Place
Big Wheel
Mary Don’t Go
Dali’s Clock
UFO
Real or Magic
Ozma
Bog
Life Is Unfair

Below are images of Shannon & The Clams along with the night’s opening act, Tropa Magica, performing at Black Cat on the night of June 1, 2024. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Ryan Vock.

Shannon & The Clams

Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon and The Clams Shannon & The Clams @ Black Cat Washington DC 06.01.24 Photo by Casey Ryan Vock

Shannon and The Clams @ Black Cat Washington DC 06.01.24 Photo by Casey Ryan Vock

Tropa Magica

Tropa Magica @ Black Cat Washington DC 06.01.24 Photo by Casey Ryan Vock