There’s a bit of a buzz about Dry Cleaning, the South London quartet who’ve been lauded as purveyors of post-punk poetry, with echoes of Mark E Smith and the Beat poets in vocalist Florence Shaw’s delivery of the spoken word.

Tonight, at the end of a rather stormy week, their New Long Leg tour takes them to the Dissection Room in Edinburgh’s Summerhall, where many of the audience sweat out the band’s arrival in polar expedition gear.

Drummer Nick Buxton gives a cheery ‘hi’ as he takes to the stage with guitarist Tom Dowse and bassist Lewis Maynard in tow. Shaw, decked in a swathe of shiny black, totters over to the mic-stand in a pair of soaring platforms, similar in structure to Anne-Marie’s Brits trip footwear from last week. Thankfully she doesn’t fall on her face in those bad shoes, rather they ground her as she delivers perfect monologues, enveloped exquisitely by the band’s melodic wall of edgy, driving guitar riffs and burly baselines. 

I was first drawn to Dry Cleaning’s eclectic sound, rather than Shaw’s laconic drawl, but when I turned up the radio and realised that many of her thought patterns were similar to the drivel that spins around in my head, I was hooked. It’s the deadpan delivery and the absurdities of the normal that gives Dry Cleaning their edge. Of course, the words have been honed, but when you spot your own mundane thoughts in her subdued stream of consciousness, it becomes addictive listening. The band stumbled upon their unique approach after university lecturer Shaw’s initial reluctance to sing resulted in a spoken word approach instead. Her reticence paid off, as they identified their x-ingredient, something every band craves.

Tonight there’s a melancholic start with Leafy, from 2021 debut album, New Long Leg, as Shaw dolefully muses ‘What are the things that you have to clear out? Baking powder, big jar of mayonnaise’. It’s just the sort of frivolous tripe, albeit handy distraction, that goes round in your head when you’re about to make a life-changing move. Startled, she ponders these questions while anxiously twirling and tugging at her perfectly straightened hair, possibly the result of Dry Cleaning’s sideline in ironing.

Next up is the wonderfully energetic Unsmart Lady, with a rollicking riff reminiscent of ‘70s rock in its Kashmir vibe, complete with gutsy baseline groove, juxtaposed against Shaw’s wearily delivered prose about body image: ‘Fat podgy / Non make-up / Unsmart lady’ as she gazes fretfully beyond the ceiling of the Dissection room. 

In Strong Feelings, Shaw clutches a maraca for dear life like she’s just heard the words ‘Here’s Johnny’, her eyes gingerly sweeping the room, as she spouts out the throwaway thought ‘I’ve been thinking about eating that hotdog for hours’. Her Hippo sees Dowse striding furiously as he attacks his guitar while Shaw moves on to the tambourine, which she shakes feebly, as if a jolt too far may awaken the ghosts of dissections past from the venue’s old life as a veterinary school. It’s this performance of the uncertain, so delightfully droll, that enthrals the crowd, as her cadence questions every wavering word that slips through her lips. More Big Birds sees a sudden realisation wash over her face as she precariously raises a clawed hand, bird-like. Maybe it’s just dawned on her that she’s left a pizza in the oven.

A few older numbers are included in the set such as Viking Hair, from 2019’s Boundary Road Snacks and Drinks EP in which Shaw almost sings, and the popular Magic of Meghan from the Sweet Princess EP, an invigorating punky number which celebrates Meghan Markle. ’You got engaged on the day that I moved out’ / It’s ok!’ reinforcing how good news can turn around a bad day. Well, who’d have thought it? Such enthusiasm towards a Royal(ish) person from someone who isn’t Nicholas Witchell. And is it just me or does Buxton look a bit like a moustachioed Har…no, surely it’s just the red lighting.

Lyrics don’t come much less complicated that Traditional Fish, which lists signage, news headlines and menu items, ‘News and mags / Fruits and veg…Chicken Burger Pizza / Phone Cards’. It raises a wry smile but has that dreary feel, like a visit to the seaside as rain washes away the remnants of your sand-doused ice cream.  

The blistering Scratchcard Lanyard, opening track and first single release from New Long Leg, completes the set. Driven by Maynard’s pulsing baseline as he drifts into his own reverie, Dowse’s chiming guitar intensifies to a sound which brings to mind Public Service Broadcasting. This number’s about trying to find your place in the world, that 21st century mentality where we feel compelled to try everything and fill every minute until we burn out, with Shaw’s jet black commentary flipping from cordial to caustic. ‘I’ve come here to make a ceramic shoe / And I’ve come to smash what you made / I’ve come to learn how to mingle / I’ve come to learn how to dance…Do everything and feel nothing’. She finishes with a line which could’ve caused her a lot of grief in the 17th century, as she warns the successful few, ‘Well, I’ll tell you one thing / You’ve got it coming / One day / Ha’. Ok, that’s you told.

The encore tonight is one track only, the ten minute Conversation, from Sweet Princess, a look at the pain of social awkwardness, which, as always, is delivered with a delectable slice of sardonic tongue. Love it!

It’s an outstanding performance from a bunch so talented, they could make my shopping list sound interesting. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a ticket for one of the remaining tour dates, you’ll not be disappointed as you eavesdrop on this quirky and striking ensemble.

Check out our review of Dry Cleaning at Edinburgh’s Hidden Door Festival, June 2022 >>

Words: Shirley Mack @musingsbymarie
Pictures: Calum Mackintosh @ayecandyphotography