Is there a seat for electronic music at the live music table? Alex Clare is on the case. The singer-songwriter and bearded Brit lays soulful pop vocals over dubstep, dub reggae and even drum-and-bass to merge the two worlds, territory most notably navigated by fellow Londoner Katy B.
But unlike his spunky and self-assured neighbor, Clare hasn’t quite settled on a musical identity. Is it pop music or electronic dance music? Or is it electronic pop music? And, most important, is it any good?
Clare’s Monday night show at the 9:30 Club was sold out, but the energy was low and the vibe was restless, as if the young crowd had been given directions to the wrong party. Fans stood stagnant while he wailed into the microphone but leapt to life when he stepped aside so his keyboardist could crank out a few womp-womps on the synthesizer. They filtered into the hallways during slow numbers such as “Caroline” but poured back in for the party anthem “Up All Night.” They sought bass and buildup. He gave them heart and soul.
Halfway through the show, even Clare seemed to acknowledge the missed connection. “Okay, okay, you guys ready for some dance?” he asked, as the band tore into “Hands Are Clever,” a funky retro track that sounds like Stevie Wonder and Jamiroquai on vacation.
In the audience’s defense, Clare seems to have been misbranded. His debut album, “The Lateness of the Hour,” which was produced with dance hall duo Major Lazer, was released a year and a half ago. It did poorly and his label, Island Funk, dropped him. It wasn’t until Microsoft used his most dubstep-driven song, “Too Close,” in a commercial this year that Clare appeared on the public’s radar.
This might all play out smoother for Clare if he were actually an EDM artist. In reality, he’s a singer-songwriter who uses some electronic beats in a few of his songs. Sometimes, like during “Treading Water,” it sounded fresh and inventive to hear his quivering voice cast into waves of wobble. Other times — most notably his stiff cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” — it felt forced and unconvincing.
Such discrepancies make you wonder if Clare is the real deal or if he’s capitalizing on electronic music’s recent reign. He’s been given a second shot at success, but it remains to be seen whether he can hold onto it.