Florence Shaw fronts Dry Cleaning at the Howard Theatre on Jan. 31, 2023. (Photo by Mickey McCarter)
Florence Shaw is a true poet who values the economy of words. She speaks more than sings in the lyrics she writes for her band, Dry Cleaning, and the Englishwoman appreciates a phrase that gets straight to the point.
In a recent inaugural visit to DC, Florence charmed the bustling Howard Theatre using her way with words. Take fresh number “Don’t Press Me,” for instance, a short song sang halfway through the show that essentially tells the recipient of the song’s lyrics that “you’re always stressin’ me out.”
But the “rat” in the song doesn’t seem to have surprised narrator Florence, who maintained an abundance of sangfroid.
On Jan. 31, Dry Cleaning came to DC to perform at the Howard Theatre on their second USA tour, which is in support of their sophomore album, Stumpwork, released last year via 4AD. The band’s setlist featured the album heavily, showcasing 10 of its 11 tracks — including “Don’t Press Me” — across 17 selections throughout the night.
A watch of the video of “Don’t Press Me” consists of a series of psychedelic crudely drawn cartoons, and there is something fitting in the visual representation of the band, who are capable of expressing wild bewilderment as well as wild abandon in one moment but then also of getting down to all brass tacks business in the very next moment.
Watch the official music video for “Don’t Press Me” by Dry Cleaning on YouTube:
Technically, Dry Cleaning are a post-punk band, and they fit that format wonderfully with Florence (vocals), Tom Dowse (guitar), Lewis Maynard (bass), and Nick Buxton (drums). They play punchy clips that carry shimmering guitar riffs. But at the Howard Theatre, the audience could clearly hear their strong penchant for psychedelic tones and arrangements throughout the night. You could not deny the power of Tom on guitar, who shined in extended riffs throughout the night. Given the appropriate opportunity, he seemed like he would break out into playing solo all night but this call to action was balanced by his admirable focus and discipline.
Some sonic texture of Dry Cleaning maybe recalls great post-punk poets like Mark E. Smith and John Cooper Clark or even John Lydon with the band’s taste for bardic self-reflection and nailed-down beats. I couldn’t help but also think of the lovely 1985 song “It’s a Fine Day” by Jane Lancaster when I first heard Dry Cleaning. John Peel would have loved this younger band.
The setlist also included about five songs from Dry Cleaning’s first full-length album, New Long Leg, released by 4AD in 2021. Early in the show, the band performed the standout single “Scratchcard Lanyard,” where the ever-cool vocals of Miss Shaw were paired with frenetic, hurried melodies from the rest of the band. The wondrous rhythm section of Maynard-Buxton laid a groundwork that was both intense and relaxed, while Tom Dowse built up a big freakout as they raced toward the end of the song.
Watch the official music video for “Scratchcard Lanyard” by Dry Cleaning on YouTube:
There’s bit of devil-may-care to “Scratchcard Lanyard.” But lest you think Dry Cleaning was all cold shoulders and kiss-offs, they dropped a kind not here and there. Toward the end of the set, Dry Cleaning played “Magic of Meghan,” their very first single, which dropped in 2019. While it has that Dry Cleaning DNA, the song seemed to be a perfectly innocent ode to Meghan Markle, wife of England’s Prince Harry. The song provided a bit of escapism for the listener, and as the lyrics go, “it’s okay!”
There is a bit of magic to Dry Cleaning, and you’ll surely be intrigued despite Florence Shaw’s cool detachment. Well, maybe rather because of Florence’s cool detachment, which also is reminiscent of New York City sirens Debbie Harry and Kim Gordon. There’s a lot going on in the music of Dry Cleaning, and we surely will see them again soon, given that they are a band with a lot to say. (Hit them up on Valentine’s Day if you’re in Dublin, Ireland!)
Here are some photos of Dry Cleaning performing at the Howard Theatre on Jan. 31, 2023. All photos by Mickey McCarter.