I didn’t have a heap of expectations prior to Clap Clap Riot’s gig at Caroline last night, but one thing I wasn’t expecting was such a devoted audience. The small and sweaty venue wasn’t packed by any means, but the people that were there crowded at the front and were seemingly familiar with most of the songs played, cheering, dancing, singing along and yelling out band members’ names.
It didn’t take me long to realise this was going to be one of those gigs where the reviewer is pretty much the only person there who isn’t in love with the music and has to say as such. The Auckland 5-piece played a concise and snappy set of hook-heavy, danceable pop-rock, all driving straightforward beats and punchy guitar riffs. I found many of the songs immediately catchy, to the band’s credit as composers, while at the same time I didn’t hear anything I would have missed out on if I put on any small “indie rock” radio station.
Their music is well-designed for small, energetic crowds like this. You couldn’t call them heavy, but their sound is certainly punchy, their riffs, rhythms and changes all simple, to-the-point and deliberate. They also have an ear for song structure and hooks, resulting in a crowd with a passion you rarely see for New Zealand bands playing venues of this size. Half or more of the songs received cheers of recognition within their first few bars and loud sing-alongs in their choruses. Their pop compositional ambitions have clearly paid off - these are choruses that you can tell were written to be sung along to.
Seeing the enthusiasm of the crowd certainly made the gig enjoyable, and it was nice enough to soak up the vibe, but when I focused in on the music I just couldn’t find much there that I enjoyed. I guess it’s well-made pop rock, but I didn’t feel it created any kind of identifiable musical experience for me. The riffs and chord progressions were just a bit too familiar, and the vocals a bit too characterless and forgettable.
However, I acknowledge that I seemed to be the only one thinking this way, and seeing as most of the other people has actually fished out money for tickets, I’d say Clap Clap Riot were holding up their end of that promised transaction very well. They’re definitely a tight and well-practised live band, locking in fantastically with each other. The set length, however, may have left some devoted fans wanting more - 11 or so songs is a pretty short set for a 10th-anniversary tour, and it flew by in around an hour at most.