Clare and the Reasons are terrifyingly cute. They could destroy all worlds of lesser cuteness, blasting apart their molecules like Oppenheimer, and the band displayed this menace instantly via their stage props: brittle bundles of winter foliage, washboards, a tuba, and red pipe cleaners, the last of which would soon jut artfully/insanely from Clare’s hair. The band’s five members scattered and regrouped randomly, foreshadowing the highly twee experience to follow.
Well, they worked with what they had: the Frog Stand CMJ showcase on Wednesday night was only moderately attended, even for the minute confines of Mercury Lounge. Opener Josh Mease ribbed the audience with rigidly assigned fictional names (not everyone in there was named Bob, I’m at least 85% sure) and a set of breathy, stoic folk-pop that sounded far more resonant live than on his modest records: Myriad autumnal dirges, huskily imploring da-da-da-das, implacable swoons in the arid Iron and Wine vein. Most of the setlist came from Mease’s latest album, Wilderness, and it’s pretty fetching stuff: ballad “Eleanor” shared a little of Patrick Watson’s wicked circus-dirge leanings, as inflected by the minor undertones Mease toys with so often. All the Bobs seemed delighted by this one, especially.
Clare and the Reasons’ theatrical chamber pop didn’t stray far from sophomore album Arrow, released in August. Falsetto vocalist Clare Manchon and her husband Oliver–who composed all the tracks in a Brooklyn kitchen with some help from Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, not present last night–packed in all the accoutrements at Mercury: slide whistles, effusive piano trills, handclaps, and some very impressive whistling. They were syrupy but not overbearing, given the circumstances: Clare’s frail quavers were lovely, as bittersweet yet placid as could ever be hoped for. The band was surreal and overly adorable, sure–those red wires poking gleefully from Clare’s skull didn’t dimish this impression–but the show made for a pleasant port early on at CMJ. After this, it’s all Japandroids and Pabst and death metal cruises ahoy.