Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, October 2 at the Vic Theatre, Chicago

I had the opportunity last night to check out one of the most exciting bands in recent music, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Opener Architecture in Helsinki was a bit disappointing. Playing mostly confusing unheard material and dressed as though they were homeless, the opera rock act struggled to connect with the audience. The headliner was certainly much better, and the Clap Your Hands set even made the virtual hurricane that I was forced to enter outside after the conclusion of the show seem worth it.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, October 2, Vic Theatre, Chicago, IL.    *** out of 4 stars

Alec Ounswirth has one of those unique voices that seems to sound good no matter how on or off key he is singing. Last night, with his left leg swinging throughout each number, the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah frontman proved that. The band, who has released only one full studio album, worked its way through its entire catalog and added some new material as well in a little under an hour and a half.

The band played energetically through suave opener “Gimme Some Salt”, before working their way into a rockier version of “Let The Cool Goddess Rust Away.” Throughout the concert the band seemed to be more electric than the almost folky-pop sound demonstrated on the album. For me, an early highlight was the wailing vocal on “In This Home on Ice”, a crisp rendition that sounded more vocally energetic than the fantastic album version.

In the middle of the set, the band came right at the audience with a three headed monster of “Is This Love”, “Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth” and “Over and Over Again,” arguably the three biggest crowd pleasers on the album. I was surprised by this challenging combination and in the end Ounswirth was unable to pull it off completely. While the first two were brilliant and energetic, a shortened version of the latter combined with octave-lower vocals provided one of the evening’s only disappointments.

Ounswirth’s voice continued to show a touch of variation on tracks such as “Tidal Wave of Young Blood”, a powerful performance of “Details of The War” and show closer “Heavy Metal”, but this did not take much away from the show’s energy. As I have already mentioned, his uniqe vocal style makes any sound he makes generally pleasing to the ear. Another highlight was the performance of the opening track of the album, which basically consisted of Ounswirth wailing through a megaphone like a crazed carnival inhabitant behind neon green leprechaun lighting.

As for the new material, it seemed to me that Clap Your Hands is progressing a bit musically, although the songs seemed darker and less “fun”, for lack of a better word. Showing the most promise was the intensity of “The Out of Sorts Song” as Ounswirth referred to it about midway through the set. Another perplexing new tune played with Ounswirth chanting “Satan” repeatedly had me wondering if this was the same band, but then encore “The Saints Go Marching” played more like the band I am used to, with foot stompin’, Art Brut talkin’ characteristics.

Overall, the band put on a great albeit relatively short set with only a couple of disappointments. One of the best things about having only one album, I suppose, is being able to make sure that all the songs are played and that no one goes home disappointed. Certainly, the new songs show depth and promise, and hopefully we will see some new material from these up and comers in 2007.

Setlist:

  1. Gimme Some Salt
  2. Let The Cool Godess Rust Away
  3. In This Home on Ice
  4. New Song
  5. Is This Love
  6. The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth
  7. Over and Over Again
  8. New Song- The Out of Sorts Song
  9. Details of the War
  10. New Song- Satan Song
  11. Clap Your Hands!
  12. New Song
  13. Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood

 Encore:

  1. New Song- The Saints Go Marching
  2. Heavy Metal

Review of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah/ Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, 2005, 9.3/ 10

Who would have ever imagined that one of the year’s newcomers with such a ridiculous name would create one of its most unforgettable albums? Honestly, I wasn’t a believer that any band that would name itself such a thing was capable of producing such a masterpiece. In fact, I will never forget the first time I heard this album, a much-needed substitute for a break in a playlist during a party at my apartment necessitated by an I-Pod that was out of battery. It seemed to just keep getting better and better, and I couldn’t wait to listen to it immediately the next day when I could be able to concentrate on it more and give it the attention that it deserved. Upon that listen, I realized the shocking complexity of the music and how it blended so many influences and was actually beside myself with amazement in regard to its inherent quality.

            What would be the best way to describe the sound to those who haven’t had the privilege of experiencing it themselves? At first I resorted to simply explaining it as a “happy Arcade Fire” psychedelic folk-rock type of sound, but further listens reveal more immediate influences, especially vocal interpretations of David Byrne of the Talking Heads combined with folkier acoustic sounds of such bands as Neutral Milk Hotel and even the electronic experimentation of later Wilco material. The title track begins the album on a confusing note as circus music and carnival voices compose the short opener, adding hysterically to the absurdity. We get our first taste of the actual band on “Let The Cool Goddess Rust Away”, a somewhat grinding and repetitive track that is by no means the album’s strongest but serves well to showcase frontman Alec Ounsworth’s unique vocal style. The first truly great song, “Over and Over Again” follows like a slap in the face, with Ounsworth almost mumbling his lyrics over steadily rolling guitars, bass and synthesizers. The band really begins to shine on the album’s standout “The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth” as Ounsworth delivers an astounding vocal performance and takes the energy to a whole new level behind even more catchy synthesized music.

            “Is This Love” continues the rather euphoric tone of the album, using jangly guitar work, faster drumming and a strong bass line as the verses build and eventually break down into a fantastic coda. The rocking continues with the feedback-laden, chanting chorus of “Heavy Metal”, which even uses harmonica in its introduction to the verses. While this track doesn’t shine quite as brightly as some of the album’s best work, it shows some additional innovation. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah isn’t done yet, as “In This Home on Ice,” probably the album’s prettiest and most sentimental track, follows in all of its glory, seeming to alert us that this surprisingly good debut is nearing its conclusion. The band has two more treats for us before it departs though, the softly building foot-stomper “Gimme Some Salt” and jamming closer “Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood,” on which Ounsworth wails behind dual guitars, “There is danger in the night/ there are things we can’t control /But then we give ourselves a fright/ And we become less than human/ but other people will say why, why oh why?” Ounsworth’s tendency to howl unintelligible lyrics throughout the album is probably never more evident than on this final number, but for some reason, his vocal style is so unique that we could truly care less.

            On first listen, the album is so immediately enticing to the ear and solid throughout—innovative yet not too overly experimental to be universally loved. Further listens provide a deeper musical complexity, a brilliant combination of electronics, folky guitar arrangements, percussion and one of this year’s most memorable vocal performances. Now let’s see what we can do about that name.

Explore posts in the same categories: Tunes