The best band in Philadelphia is the most hated band in Philadelphia. That'd be Clockcleaner—a sinister noise-punk trio fronted by singer/guitarist/firebrand John Sharkey.
Clockcleaner With the Lights, Unnatural Helpers, and Chinese. Funhouse. 206 Fifth Ave. N., 374-8400, www.thefunhouseseattle.com. $6. 9 p.m. Fri., Nov. 9.
Clockcleaner aren't hated because they're the most successful band in town. Club owners hate them mainly because of something Sharkey did back in 2004. It goes something like this: Clockcleaner were opening for Brooklyn butt-rockers Bad Wizard at Philly dive bar the Khyber (it's similar to the pre-refurbished Comet Tavern), and during their set, Sharkey separated his shoulder. After a painful load-out at the end of the night, Sharkey went back in to get his jacket, only to find it being sat on by Bad Wizard's lead singer, who proceeded to mock Sharkey for making less money that night than his band.
Injury prevented Sharkey from throwing a punch, so he calmly grabbed his jacket and walked to the Khyber's exit, right next to Bad Wizard's merch table. Sharkey then whipped out his dick and unloaded a full bladder's worth of piss all over their T-shirts, CDs, and posters.
Clockcleaner were subsequently banned for life from the Khyber, as well as a bunch of other venues in town.
Other Philly bands hate them, and refuse to share bills with them, mainly because Sharkey takes glee in ripping virtually all of them to shreds in the press whenever possible, particularly the city's two biggest acts of the moment. "My dad would think Dr. Dog is pussy shit, and he listens to Dan Fogelberg," Sharkey recently told Philadelphia Weekly. "Man Man suck horsedick," he commented to Vice, adding, "Most bands in Philly have names like Chunky Briefcase and only play the Khyber and live with their ex-girlfriends four years after the fact. That's Philly—privileged and mediocre."
People in Philadelphia hate them because Clockcleaner appear to hate the people of Philadelphia. "Philly is made of pussies," bassist-vocalist Karen Horner told Terminal Boredom. Noted Sharkey to Dusted: "It's just a town full of ass-kissers...everyone in this town can suck my ass." If you want to hear for yourself what some people think of them, go to Clockcleaner's MySpace page and click on "A Message From a Fan"—you'll be treated to an irate, very real (and hilarious) answering-machine message left for Sharkey, part of which goes, "You're such a roly-poly, fat motherfucker, and I hate your fuckin' guts and I'm gonna fuckin' stab you."
"People genuinely think Sharkey is a cock and wish Clockcleaner would just go away," confirms Philadelphia Weekly music editor Brian McManus, who's spoken with the singer on numerous occasions over the past year while covering the band. "I don't think Sharkey is a cock. At all. He's smart and outspoken. I don't think that makes him a dick. That said, he is loud and can be a tad obnoxious when drunk."
Perhaps that explains some of Sharkey's, well, politically incorrect stage antics. He's been known to throw around the N-word more times than Michael Richards, as Clockcleaner perform songs with such titles as "Gentle Swastika" and "Interview w/ a Black Man." And during one show in Baltimore, he's alleged to have leaped into the crowd and tackled someone with cerebral palsy, though it's unclear whether or not the singer knew about the handicap prior to the beatdown.
Sure, all of this could be written off as a desperate ploy for attention by a lousy, loser band. But the reality is that Clockcleaner have just released a fucking whale of a new album, Babylon Rules, which is pretty much the best thing I've heard this year. All at once it's the deranged, twangy menace of Scratch Acid; the caustic assault of Big Black; the primal, reverbed demonry of the Cramps; and the ominous, tar-pit brutality of Swans and Killdozer. Amid a collision of riffs, noise, clattering drums, filthy grooves, and a smidgen of melody, Sharkey sneers, snarls, and howls like he's just woken up in the middle of brain surgery.
Live, they're even better—feral, unpredictable, confrontational, legitimately dangerous. And though the easily offended might scowl at the more controversial aspects of Clockcleaner's modus operandi, McManus and I agree that Sharkey's no racist. Like the Country Teasers, he's more or less takin' the piss (so to speak) and deriving pleasure from other peoples' discomfort, while pushing the envelope way past the boundaries of decency just to see what kind of mayhem might ensue.
Sharkey's also well aware that the music Clockcleaner make is fringe, outsider stuff; that there's no worries about burning any bridges; and that, short of a bullet, nobody can stop him from saying and doing whatever the fuck he wants and calling it like he sees it. So he does.
"He truly does want to throw a wrench in the machine," says McManus. And that's somethin' you gotta love."