It took Clare & the Reasons a while to set up for their show at the Mercury Lounge. First, they had to affix bundles of white, leafless branches around the stage, creating a small forest in which to play. Then, they had to tune and soundcheck an arsenal of instruments: washboard, clarinet, trombone, tuba, glockenspiel, violin, bass, several guitars, assorted percussion, ukulele, and kazoos. There were no complaints for the late start, but widespread disappointment at the truncated set.
The band consists primarily of singer-songwriter Clare Manchon and multi-instrumentalist Olivier Manchon, with two additional players switching fluidly between guitar, keys, horns, and percussion. Their upcoming album Arrow portrays them as musically omnivorous, blending stately chamber pop with jazz, lite rock, old Disney movies, Vince Guaraldi, “Sesame Street”, and pretty much anything else you can think of. They walk a fine line: The music is too adventurously orchestrated to sound twee, but too breezy to sound showy.
Onstage, they meticulously re-created nearly every sound from the album, which is no small feat for a mere quartet. What can sound subdued in the studio sounded more emphatic on stage, especially the startlingly chipper “Ooh You Hurt Me So” and the rushing chorus of “Mellifera”. As the show progressed, the songs grew longer and more involved, culminating in a pair of winding, intricately arranged “epics” (Clare’s word) that closed the set. Despite the complications, they made it look easy in the end.