By Dylan McNally
Stepping out of a dark, wintry Bristolian evening into the warmth and light of Rough Trade was comforting, but on first inspection, it wasn’t entirely clear how exactly a gig was about to happen. Walking amongst records and with no sign of a stage I wondered how and where Dry Cleaning would perform. In the end, my confusion was premature, Rough Trade Bristol is a different kind of in-store — instead of playing amongst records or pressed up against a counter, bands are given an entire back room: something more akin to a “real” gig. So, after grabbing a pint, I headed in, waited for Dry Cleaning, and hoped for something special.
Regardless of the environment, there is something hypnotic about a Dry Cleaning performance and you quickly forget about where you are; there is now something more deserving of your attention. Frontwoman Florence Shaw has a quiet intensity about her, barely moving for the entire set yet able to draw the crowd in with her directness; both with her words and stares. Behind her, the rest of the band are less content to remain still. At times, it feels as if the stage is too small for guitarist Tom Dowse, who seems trapped by his little corner of the stage but whose sound transitions seamlessly from the album to the live environment, nonetheless. In fact, the same can be said for the entire band. I did have a couple of concerns over whether this was an album that could be replicated live, especially with a pretty bare line up of vocalist, guitarist, bassist and drummer, yet they manage to create a sound that can only be described as ‘big’ with Sonic Youth style guitars and melodic basslines interchanging, providing the perfect backdrop for Shaw’s almost passive aggressive delivery.
They rattled through the entirety of New Long Leg, with very few pauses and almost no audience interaction (apart from Shaw telling us that they haven’t performed in a long time, which turns out to have only been a month, not that anyone could tell anyway), seemingly not wanting to break the trance-like state they have coaxed the audience into. A few other songs from previous EPs were also on the setlist with fan-favourite "Magic of Meghan" played, followed by 2021 release "Tony Speaks." before closing with arguably the best song from New Long Leg, "Scratchcard Lanyard." By this time, the crowd seems to have awoken, with more movement and a better energy. Local legend Big Jeff Johns being in the crowd was not only an indicator of the set's quality but added to its energy with him not slowing down for the entire thing and, by the end, the rest of the crowd had followed suit.
Dry Cleaning have now completed a mini tour of sorts for Rough Trade after New Long Leg was named their album of the year. New Long Leg speaks for itself but is elevated even higher in a live setting, especially as one as intimate as the back of a record shop. For a record released in a year devoid of gigs, it is exciting that it is getting to finally stretch its legs. As for Dry Cleaning, they do not seem phased by the success it has brought them; if anything, they seem closer as a band for it, and ready for a new phase. New Long Leg deserved every ounce of praise it got last year and at last, we can experience the album in the flesh. With an upcoming UK tour and festival season on the horizon, gigs like these are important not only to further that connection with fans that potentially could have been lost in the midst of a pandemic, but also to iron out any potential issues. If this was a test run of sorts, then Dry Cleaning passed with flying colours.
I leave the darkness of the back room and into the light of the Rough Trade floor, queuing to pick up a signed copy of the Tascam Tapes 12” included with my ticket. I checked my phone and queue the entirety of New Long Leg,naturally. The gig may have ended, but as I stepped out of the shop and into the street, readying myself for the walk up Park Street, I am owas again transfixed by the brilliance of Dry Cleaning as their intensely direct sounds streamed through my headphones.