Clairo review – introspective pandemic-made pop bursts out into the open

O2 Academy, Birmingham
Claire Cottrill’s ornate and intricate songs provoke a fan singalong backed by saxophones and clarinets

It is thrilling to witness someone making something difficult look easy. When Clairo released her second album Sling in July 2021, the fear was that its hushed, ornate songs, inspired by the Carpenters and Todd Rundgren, might not have been able to exist outside the introspective conditions of the pandemic.

Performing live, it takes roughly 30 seconds for Clairo, real name Claire Cottrill, to put these doubts to bed. Sitting at a piano, her face is barely visible from even a few rows back due to a conflagration of phones and outstretched arms. She slides into Sling’s first song, Bambi, lit in soft-focus pinks and blues, and the crowd responds by roaring along to each twist and turn, their boisterousness clearly suggesting the show is something of a release valve. On stage, Cottrill can go where she pleases, because the news from the floor is that they are with her.

Her talented band, which has swelled to include multi-instrumentalists who flit between flutes, clarinets and saxophones, expands and blurs the edges of each song, leading to fabulous moments such as Zinnias’s taut hooks being strung out into a War on Drugs-style jam.

Blurring the edges … Clairo.
Blurring the edges … Clairo. Photograph: Jason Sheldon/Rex/Shutterstock

There is a notable frisson of excitement when Cottrill’s support technician produces an electric guitar from the wings, foreshadowing a change in focus to material from her indie-rock-leaning debut, Immunity. She uncovers new-found muscularity in Alewife and Bags, the latter of which is prefaced by a somewhat redundant request for everyone to “sing as loud as you can”. The noise when the first chorus hits is the kind that loosens fillings, and similar reactions await Flaming Hot Cheetos and Pretty Girl, missives from her time as a YouTube bedroom-pop star.

Cottrill closes with a fizzing Sofia, pirouetting from one side of the stage to the other as though she wants to meet the eyes of every person in the front row. A year ago, hers was a hand reaching out to these kids from a yawning void. Now, there are thousands reaching back.


Huw Baines

The GuardianTramp

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