Dry Cleaning Showed Toronto How the Sausage Is Made

Phoenix Concert Theatre, January 11

With Nourished by Time

Photo: Katrina Lat

BY Ian GormelyPublished Jan 12, 2023

UK indie's current infatuation with post-punk has led to a proliferation of British men yelling over jagged guitar riffs. So the arrival of South London's Dry Cleaning, a post-punk band who practice the subtle art of quiet rage, was a breath of fresh air among the teeming hordes of angry young dudes. 

Clearly relishing their role as minor disrupters of the indie rock order, the quartet tapped Baltimore's Nourished by Time as their current opener. The solo project of Marcus Brown, the singer and producer was constrained by a laptop setup that required regularly triggering new sounds. But when he hit the mic to sing — he prefaced his set by saying he didn't like chatting between songs — he deftly held the crowd's attention, seamlessly blurring the lines between indie, R&B, dance and hip-hop. 

Dry Cleaning have come a long way in a short time, quickly adapting to the role of headlining larger clubs. They arrived at the Phoenix Concert Theatre stage with little fanfare, launching into "Kwenchy Kups," in which frontperson Florence Shaw reassured the crowd that "things are shit, but they're gonna be okay." She then proceeded to dole out 75 minutes of withering critiques and off-hand observations, delivered in a deadpan monologue. 

Where Shaw was unflappably stoic, her bandmates were animated forces of nature. Guitarist Tom Dowse was particularly alive, his hand never stopping its frantic journey up and down his guitar neck. Still, the audience couldn't help but cast their gaze on Shaw. Her stillness made small movements seem huge, such as the deployment of a shaker on "Strong Feelings." She did most of her emoting with her eyes, which would bulge out, roll back in her head, or scrunch up with the rest of her face when some particularly distasteful thought rolled out of her mouth. 

"Scratchcard Lanyard" was an early standout in the set, which mostly oscillated between songs from 2021's breakout New Long Leg and last year's equally great Stumpwork. "Magic of Meghan," a tongue-in-cheek ode to Meghan Markle from their 2019 Sweet Princess EP, elicited a rare break in character for Shaw as she admitted the band were trying to get their hands on a copy of Prince Harry's new memoir.  "We're ravenous for it," she said. "A lot of weird stuff in there. Very interested." 

The main set ended with 2021 loosie "Tony Speaks!" Upon returning to the stage, the band worked through "Anna Calls from the Arctic" — their show's usual end point — before opting to perform Stumpwork's "Liberty Log" live for the first time. Shaw needed a lyric sheet to jog her memory, but she and her bandmates didn't falter on the slow-burning number.

In the hands of lesser musicians, Dry Cleaning's sound could fall flat at any moment. Their records can sound casual — even tossed off, some detractors might argue — but seeing the sausage being made on stage showcases the degree of control that Shaw, Dowse, bassist Lewis Maynard and drummer Nick Buxton wield. It's a sharp and welcome counterpoint to their tempestuous and often flailing peers.

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