Shannon and the Clams' Nostalgia Makes for Heartbreaking Garage Rock

Traced back to their forebears, Shannon and the Clams come from a wild ménage à trois of Nuggets garage, Bay Area punk, and '50s pop groups. For a lesser band, that inspiration would have fizzled like a drink from the soda jerk — sweet and bubbly one moment, flat the next. But this Oakland trio inserts endless creativity into its formula thanks to a genuine love for the source material.

"We didn't have cable and shit like that."

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Growing up in a Mormon household, Shannon Shaw and her family agreed on the doo-wop and girl groups of the '50s and early '60s — common denominators of moral taste and musical excellence. Acts like the Ronettes and the Shirelles commanded the radio dial. "I like the earnest quality," Shaw says. "I love the focus on vocals and harmonies and the power of the song being in those vocals. I like that a lot of the music of that time is emotional — people being vulnerable, pouring their heart out."

For a long time, that's all Shaw had. "My parents were really strict about what we could listen to. We didn't have cable and shit like that. We didn't have access to VH1 or MTV for a really long time. Growing up, we just had the radio, and I think it's just ingrained in me."

The emotion and bleeding hearts of her early doo-wop favorites have endured through Shaw. Hearts ooze on the Clams' new record, Gone by the Dawn. As the title suggests, it's something of a breakup record, shedding light on those nebulous end-of-relationship days when nights are spent together but mornings are up for grabs. Shaw and co-lead Cody Blanchard purr over garage guitar, sounding broken but hopeful.

"I sort of wonder if people sit down and say, 'OK, I'm going to write a breakup record.' That's certainly not what I was doing; that's just what came out."

In that case, it's a delightful addition to an accidental form. "I remember your body and I start to die," sings Blanchard of the pain of coital memory on "It's Too Late."

"If you're gone by the dawn, I'll be gone too," Shaw sings on the album's title track. She holds that last syllable with fragility and pain. Shaw pinpoints the exact moment of a morning-light schism — if you're not staying over, we're over. Richly specific, the song's images resonate with anyone who has had a hard split. Think a Jonathan Franzen novel set to tremolo-stricken guitar, minus the snob vibe.

But it's not all a postbreakup bummer on Gone by the Dawn. "Knock 'Em Dead" is as raw as any punk-band song from the pre-Cloud days of the Bay Area. Add an attraction to H.P. Lovecraft, turn-of-the-century fairy tales, and the minor key, and it's clear Shannon and the Clams are committed to the weird. Mud men, night witches, and a lover's ghost occupy "The Bog," a welcome addition to any Halloween mixtape. For previous additions to the Clams' folklore library, visit "Gremlins Crawl," "Ozma," and "Rip Van Winkle," written from the lovelorn perspective of the hibernator's girlfriend.

If you need one tune to sell your friends — recently split, occult-loving, or otherwise — on Shannon and the Clams, "Corvette" seals the deal. Blanchard posts up with a slow, lonely, and arpeggiated hook in his staccato, wobbly tone. Meanwhile, Shaw imagines a life with beau and his muscle car. "I loved the leather on my buns," she sings, melting into Chevrolet's achievement of design and horsepower.

"But it never was real." Shaw, ever the romantic, fell for a fantasy, like so many of us have. Tellingly, hers is a fantasy rooted in the American Graffiti lore of malt balls, hair grease, and polished two-seaters cruising the town. There's a heartbreaking hope in romance here, wishing for a dream that will never be realized. Still, she peers around the corner "for a Corvette that never comes."

Shannon and the Clams 8 p.m. Tuesday, January 26, at Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-757-1807; Tickets cost $10 via

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Matt Stieb