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An Ambiguous Mood: Rejection of Musical (and Gender) Binaries

Written by on March 20, 2022

Claud @ The Troubadour [3/18/22]

Photos by Sophia Russo

Entering the Troubadour, I immediately noticed the 9 guitars and basses — red, green, blue, all covered in stickers — adorning the stage. The crowd rhythmically bounced and bopped to “Silk Chiffon” by MUNA, Claud’s fellow Saddest Factory Record signee. (The label’s founder, Phoebe Bridgers, watched the show from the balcony.) 

We remarked that the crowd was older than anticipated — possibly because it was a school night? Or maybe I had generalized Claud’s audience? Nevertheless, the group of middle-aged men in the corner definitely stood out from the teens and twenty-somethings, receiving some questioning glances from the other fans. The groups waited patiently for the opener. Most had an air of ambiguity, wearing androgynous outfits and sipping drinks despite looking suspiciously under 21. “But that’s none of my business,” I told Sophia. 

Right on time, the opener KALI bounded on stage, accompanied by just two band members. Though their Spotify bio reads, “standing 5’0’’ tall,” I might have to contest that fact. Their platform Dr. Martens provided a couple inches, but the oversized pin-striped suit emphasized the 17 year old’s small stature. However, once the music began, a charismatic stage presence escaped out of KALI’s frame as they danced energetically around the stage.

Though their youthful novice felt apparent when they fumbled with cords or chuckled nervously between songs, the masterful lyricism and performance made any sense of inexperience fade away once KALI began to sing. Performing their 2021 EP, Circles, as well as a couple new tracks, KALI captured the nuances of Gen-Z relationships, a trait that makes them a perfect match for Claud. When they pleaded, “Lucy calls me when she’s had a couple drinks/That’s the only time I know what she thinks,” they nail the elusive situationship, especially one plagued by the intracacies of young queer life. 

After KALI’s set and a brief pause, the opening chords of “Eye of the Tiger” blasted over the speakers, paired with red lights strobing to the beat. Claud scampered down the steps onto the stage, making a full loop of the Troubadour’s wide stage before picking up their signature green guitar. It matched the painted green drum kit, the Super Monster Tour poster hanging in the back, Claud’s fringed green shirt, and their blue and green hair — they definitely have a clear aesthetic. 

The band then broke into the soft, dreamy chords of “Overnight.” When they sang “I know that I jumped into your arms so quick/But everything feels better when you jump right in,” I couldn’t help but agree, giddily jumping into the romanticism and swaying along to the beat. They smoothly transitioned into “Gold,” keeping the opening order of their 2021 album Super Monster. Like the album, the show conveyed the sense of young naivety that comes with an overwhelming crush, a first serious relationship, and everything that lies in between.

When they played their 2019 release “Easy,” the signature danceable rhythm was the same, but Claud’s evolution over the past few years, in both songwriting and the fullness of their arrangements, became evident. I was particularly struck by the imagery of “Cuff Your Jeans,” with lines like “Do you ever go west/I’m talking past Texas” and “Hop on the train/to get close to me.”

What stood out the most, though, was Claud’s electrifying stage presence, which took shape during songs like “Pepsi” and “That’s Mr. Bitch To You;” they jumped around the stage, running back and forth to interact with the whole crowd. “Mr. Bitch” took on a harsher quality in its live performance, conveying their palpable anger at the combination of misogyny and transphobia that too many experience. The song is a perfect example of reclaiming power from the systems that try to limit queer voices; Claud ditched their guitar to dance, throwing up the middle finger for the whole song, and bowing down as their guitarist delivered an electrifying solo.

The high energy persisted as they returned to their classic topics: longing and complicated love. In “Jordan,” they sing “I’ll keep saying ‘Sorry’/Just to make it go your way,” with a tone that catches the heartbreak of when you would do anything for someone who wouldn’t do the same. 

They prefaced “Tommy,” Claud’s latest release: “This is another sad one” — but the distinction through the set was not clear. Though Claud’s pairing of somber lyrics with catchy rhythms is common in the indie pop space, they distinguish themselves by their unique ability to transcend the obvious conflict between these elements. The soulfulness of Claud’s storytelling remains present in many songs even without a close listen: sorrow, anger, or yearing grows as harmonies layer and baselines kick in — but the power of the lyrics in “Tommy” cannot be ignored. As they sang, “You keep the lights down low, keeping your eyes closed/But it won’t change the feel of my body,” Claud’s face reflected the languishing loneliness that comes from being someone’s second choice. Though, the song also finds comfort in torturous desire, as Claud subverts the binary of simply sad and happy songs.

As the set’s build-up culminated in the album’s fan favorite, “Soft Spot,” the blurry coexistence of grief and hope became impossible to miss. Lyrics like, “You made it clear that it’s over now/But you’re all that I think about/I don’t know what the hell to do,” should be devastating, but instead beach balls bounced around the crowd screaming the chorus, while Claud and the guitarist/bassist fell to their knees as they struck the final chords. 

With such a rousing ending, I was suspicious of whether there would even be an encore, but the stage lights remained on as Claud returned alone. They sat down at the keyboard and struck the first notes of their breakout hit, “Wish You Were Gay.” They beamed as the crowd sang along to the heart-wrenching story of unrequited love; “Wish you were gay so you could just hold me/Call me your babe instead of your homie.” The crowd’s energy honed in on each line Claud delivered, capturing the full range of emotional turmoil. 

The two final songs were both about not being with the person you want, with similar tempos and paired down instrumentation, but their performances felt as though they were from different universes, each finding an original take on the woes of a broken heart. As they sang the final line, “I won’t wait forever in the dark,” it felt distinctly hopeful, showing a new side of “Wish You Were Gay” that emerged in the years since its release. 

Claud’s performance, from the emotions they conveyed to the manner in which they traveled across the stage, continuously rejected simplicity, drawing my attention to the ways in which their discography finds nuance in an oversaturated sad-indie scene. As the crowd left The Troubadour, it felt as though Claud unlocked a new depth within me, but one void of a specific positivity or melancholy. Claud’s music allows for a reckoning of heartbreaks, but in a manner that restores hope and opens up the possibility for a new love.

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