Clem Snide – The Bowery Ballroom – March 18, 2009

March 19th, 2009
Eef Barzelay (Photo: Getty Images)

Eef Barzelay (Photo: Getty Images)

“Clem Snide is back!” proclaimed front man Eef Barzelay. And, heck, why not? In an age of reunion tours and prepackaged nostalgia, the timing seemed ripe for this band (in stripped-down trio form) to retake the stage at The Bowery Ballroom on a balmy pre-spring Wednesday.

They held court like they’d never stopped at all. Barzelay was in expert form all night, leading the band through new and old material plus previous stuff that had been re-engineered to sound new. While I’d considered loading up the iPod with Clem Snide a week in advance to prepare, I thought better of it, because the songs and words are best when they come at you fresh, with each lyric a surprise.

Live is where it matters: I could feel the emotion in every stretched metaphor and cultural allusion. But I had forgotten about the music’s ragged, prickly edge that comes out onstage and how the band crackles with twang and grit. Highlights included the reworked versions of “Something Beautiful,” which had an even gnarlier edge than when I’d heard it last, and the Dylanesque take on “No One’s More Happy Than You.”

The set closed with a majestic “I Love the Unknown.” Barzelay returned for an encore with two solo tunes that made me realize why it’s got to be Clem Snide and not just him onstage with a guitar. It was good, but when drums and bass returned, the music came to full life again. Then two horn players joined in for the last two numbers, and the energy hit a well-timed high before the night closed out. —A. Stein