Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is an acquired taste. Quirky in instrumentation and charmingly different in vocals, the five-some has acquired a rather loyal legion of fans, as shown by the excitement present in its set last night at Bowery Ballroom. It was ostensibly a record release party, as the band’s solid third album, Hysterical, was released on the same day. Led by the ever-polarizing voice of singer Alec Ounsworth, the band played a long set full of new and old, seemingly pleasing even the most critical of fans (the drunk guy right behind me who kept shouting “YANKEE GO HOME”; they have setlists, dude).
The new album sounds wonderful live. A lot of the weirdness from the first two records has been tightened by the band, making for a unique yet relatable album, which translates well live. Rockers like “Same Mistake” and the title track got the crowd moving early on, but it was really the slower songs that shone. “In A Motel” consisted of Ounsworth on his acoustic guitar, eyes closed as he serenaded the audience, while “Misspent Youth” was the highlight of the Hysterical songs played, with its slow, methodical drumming contrasting well with the chaos going on in every song around it. It seemed from the crowd that not too many people had spent a lot of time with the new record, as there was less singing when these tracks were played. As someone who has heard it quite a few times, I have no doubt that people were won over by the performances.
Hilariously enough, CYHSY’s second album was represented by a single song. Some Loud Thunder is deemed a relative disappointment by most fans, perhaps unfairly so, but it seems that the band agrees. “Satan Said Dance” was the only song to make an appearance from that record, but what an appearance it was. Arguably the band’s most famous song, the jerky, synthy track took on a bit more of a rockin’ vibe live, but that didn’t stop the audience from dancing. Impressive here was Ounsworth’s ability to lead a dance party despite his generally soft-spoken voice. It sure didn’t hurt that the crowd provided the “SAID DANCE!” from the chorus, creating a perfectly timed (way to go, Bowery Ballroom crowd) call and response.
The true highlight of the show, and of CYHSY’s career really, was the part of the set that featured tracks from the self-titled debut. Clocking in at nine songs in an 18-song set, the first album dominated proceedings, and I don’t think one person in the venue was sad about that. An early highlight was the stunning “In This Home On Ice,” the mid-tempo “ballad” (in quotes because I don’t think any song on the first album really counts as a ballad) that still managed to get a mini dance-mosh pit going behind me. Right before playing “Details Of The War,” guitarist/keyboardist/banter general Robbie Guertin commented that the band would be on Jimmy Fallon later in the night so “if we look better than usual, it’s because of the makeup … and if we look worse it’s because the makeup is smearing.”
The last three songs before the encore were arguably the best tracks from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: “Is This Love?”, “The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth” and this particular reviewer’s favorite CYHSY song, “Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood.” It was the latter, then, that stuck out the most, especially at the back half of the track, when Ounsworth led a chant of “child stars” over and over before a particularly forceful ending couplet of sex, drugs and rock (and rock, and rock, etc.) and roll.
After a short break, the encore began with the seven-minute closer from Hysterical, “Adam’s Plane,” which at one point plunged the audience into darkness, with only a disco ball’s lights filling the venue. It was particularly chilling, considering the lyrics, and even those who hadn’t heard the song seemed to know that this was a special moment. A fitting way to play the best song from the new album, I think. Finally, an hour and a half after it began, the set ended with “Heavy Metal,” the not-really-all-that-heavy jam from the debut album. It was one last chance to get down, and the crowd took advantage of it, jumping and dancing and singing along. Whatever did happen to our heavy metal?
01. Sunshine And Clouds (And Everything Proud)
02. Same Mistake
03. Over And Over Again (Lost And Found)
04. Gimmie Some Salt
06. In This Home On Ice
07. Ketamine And Ecstasy
08. In A Motel
09. Details Of The War
10. The Witness’s Dull Surprise
11. Satan Said Dance
12. Misspent Youth
14. Is This Love?
15. The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth
16. Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood
17. Adam’s Plane
18. Heavy Metal
All photos of opener Polica and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah by Maverick Inman.