There's no denying The Clarks' enduring appeal, or the region's support for these rootsy rockers. Launched 25 years ago as a humble cover band, The Clarks set the bar for Pittsburgh musicians aiming for a broad mainstream base -- and longevity. "People are loyal to you" here, says Clarks singer Scott Blasey, and will reward a band "if you show that loyalty back."
Apparently it works: On Wed., Dec. 29, at Stage AE, The Clarks will play their 2,000th show.
"I'm amazed that we've come this far," says Blasey, who began keeping count early on. (Presented by WDVE and WXDX, some show proceeds will benefit the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.)
"It is starting to sink in that some of these things are milestones," says guitarist Robert James.
The Clarks, including bassist Greg Joseph and drummer Dave Minarik, are in their 40s, some with children -- perhaps much like their audience. When James first picks up the phone, his young children coo and shriek in the background.
"Now, one of the main focuses in my life is my two daughters -- it's a different life," James says, amiably. The band now logs only some 35 shows a year, compared to nearly 200 in the past. Says Blasey, "If you give a shit about your family" -- and can't take them with you -- "you can't tour."
At times, this transition seemed like the end for The Clarks, but they've adapted -- and found it enjoyable. "It's still a way to make money for all of us," says Blasey, but with less pressure. "It's for fun."
Still, they've been busy this year: In November, they released an EP, Songs in G, a collection of acoustic re-workings of songs selected by fan vote, plus a cover of Whiskeytown's "16 Days." And for live shows, they've added keyboardist Skip Sanders, of Good Brother Earl, and pedal-steel player Gary Jacob. The additions "brought a new energy to the band, and renewed a musical sense between the four of us," says Blasey. "It's been so much fun onstage."
The coming year, too, holds plenty of promise. Songs in G whetted Blasey's appetite; he hopes to start an album of new material. "That's critical for our fans," he says. "They want to hear us continue to make new music." And there's some fun, too: Pittsburgh City Council will declare Dec. 29 The Clarks Day, and the band is filming a guided tour of Pittsburgh for the NHL Network.
Whatever the new year brings, James sums up the band's simple, roll-with-it ethos: "Don't plan, just do," he says, and "expect the unexpected."
Just a Few of The Clarks' 1,999 Shows
The Clarks' first show was at the Sigma Chi fraternity house, Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Then a cover band, they opened with The Psychedelic Furs' "Pretty in Pink." "I was scared, but I also felt like I had this electricity," Blasey says.
At their first non-fraternity show, "I had a collapsed lung," says James. "It was really painful, but I was so excited about playing the show, and I wasn't going to let those guys down." He checked in to the hospital immediately after.
In the mid-1990s, The Clarks "used to play this rinky-dink club" in Georgetown, Va., where the Indian proprietor had trouble pronouncing the band's name. When no one showed, they checked the local paper: They'd been listed as "The Clogs." Blasey calls it "The time we drove to D.C. to have dinner at Boston Market."
Local bands The Clarks, Gathering Field and Brownie Mary drew 17,000 fans to Starlake Amphitheatre for 1997's Surge fest. During their last song, "Cigarette," a dramatic storm kicked up. "People were just going apeshit," says Blasey.
In 2004, The Clarks played the Late Show With David Letterman at "a point of our career when we were on the other side of the mountain," says Blasey, so they could truly enjoy the experience. "You had that sense of 'Take this in,'" says James.
The Clarks' 2,000th Show, with Gene the Werewolf 7 p.m. (doors open) Wed., Dec. 29. Stage AE, 400 North Shore Drive, North Side. $25 ($28 day of show). All ages. 800-745-3000 or www.promowestlive.com