Review: Dry Cleaning at the Crystal Ballroom 1/19

From South London, four piece post-punk band Dry Cleaning visited Portland for their seventh show of their 2023 international tour in support of their new album “Stumpwork”. The set highlighted songs from their newest album as well as including fan favorites from their 2021 album “New Long Leg” and other past projects. The band consists of lead singer Florence Shaw, guitarist Tom Dowse, bassist Lewis Maynard and drummer Nick Buxton. They are known for their use of spoken word over shimmery guitar riffs. Florence performs in a Sprechstimme style, which is the cross between speaking and singing in which the tone of speech mimics melodic pitch in musical notation. 

Florence Shaw, with her observational lyrics exudes melodrama and an empowering feeling of female discontent. This is showcased not only by her slow talk-rock delivery but also with her simple movements throughout the performance, like rolling her eyes, shrugging her shoulders, and wrinkling her nose almost in disgust. Her bandmates compliment this well, Tom Dowse’s guitar work showcased a feeling of unpredictability among the consistent deep bass line by Lewis Maynard, driving throughout the show and adding to the drama and heaviness of their set. Drummer Nick Buxton supports the whole group by providing their signature raw rhythm.

Kicking off the show with “Kwenchy Kups” from their newest album, Dry Cleaning showcases a more light hearted, playful side to their music, which is a theme that sets “Stumpwork” apart from past projects. Inspired by a classic children’s treat, the opening line mimics the simple joys that come a long with being a kid. Florence say “Things are shit, but they’re gonna be ok. And I’m going to see the otters” expressing her attitude towards finding solace in her day to day activities. This sets the tone for the night, having contrast between light and heavy concepts.

They followed with the popular single released September 7th, 2022, Gary Ashby, which follows the story of a pet tortoise that escaped as a result of family chaos. The lyrics, while covering a simple story, are beautifully floated above glistening, catchy guitar riffs.

A highlight from the night came during “Conservative Hell”,  where Florence pulls out a melodica and plays over dissonant guitar melodies. This moment was serene, and proved that the band can and will continue to grow their style and work off of each other.

The song “Strong Feelings” off of their 2021 album, “New Long Leg”, ended up being one of the most compelling performances of the night. Tom Dowse’s guitar added a complex texture to the percussion driven song, creating a beautiful variety with Shaw’s scorn-like cut up lyrics.

Florence is a front woman like no other. Her lyrics are deadly and piercing, presenting them in a way that is so clearly her own. Her long hair with her glaring eyes add to the cadence of her detached and almost self absorbed lyrical performance. As the sole songwriter of Dry Cleaning, Florence floods their music with her overwhelming memories and voices her frustrations about societal observations. Many would find the delivery of her unconventional lyrics deadpan, but her spoken words and still demeanor create a beautifully dramatic presence you don’t often see live. In contrast to this alter ego, the crowd was nothing but enthusiastic and passionate about her hard hitting delivery, making the atmosphere at the Crystal Ballroom really quite unique.

You can find “Stumpwork” on all streaming platforms.

1 Comment

  • by Franny
    Posted January 23, 2023

    Well written review. I am now intriqued. Plan to give this band a listen.

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