On Tuesday, April 17, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah rocked out at Cannery Ballroom in Nashville, Tenn. But before I start this review, I have a quick but VERY important plea to make:
Attention, America’s hipsters. On behalf of those who like to actually enjoy themselves at rock concerts, I ask that you kindly remove your heads, any sticks, whatever bugs have set up shop and anything else from your asses before putting on those precious retro threads and attending the live shows of your favorite indie bands. And, once there, please show some appreciation to the band onstage. Being seen at one of these shows is not enough. Fucking enjoy yourselves. The bands are working hard, the least you can do is nod your head and shake around a bit.
Okay, glad that’s out there. Something to that effect needs to be said as often as possible until the brightly colored paisley button-down with matching scarf set realizes one of the principal reasons music exists is to get people moving, not to stare at those concertgoers bold enough to dance like zoo animals or, worse yet, impolite and unwelcome rabble-rousers.
Now, with that out of the way, on to the show …
Openers Elvis Perkins in Dearland play what is best described as delightful indie-folk. Obviously fans of Dylan, the band touched the folk with just enough eclectic flourishes to craft something it can call its own. Though lead singer Perkins was relatively subdued, the other three members of the band brought enough energy (particularly the drummer, at times playing a shoulder-slung bass drum with a mallet and tambourine stick while shouting along to choruses) to keep the crowd entertained. Sound trouble onstage (and Perkins’ constant talk concerning it) proved distracting from the band’s low-impact set, but these guys might be a band to pay attention to in coming weeks and months.
And whatever else you think of them, they’ve certainly got enough style to connect with their audience. Ever seen a guy sport a moustache, John Lennon glasses and two collared button-down shirts simultaneously, one on top of the other, the outer shorter than the inner? Me neither.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is one of the few bands who can actually call itself “indie” and mean it. We all know the story by now--the bandleader plunging into debt to make a record of his design only to have it take off with no commercial support whatsoever. Clap leader Alec Ounsworth and the boys made a name for themselves purely on the strength of the songs on their self-titled debut. Response to the band’s second album, this year’s Some Loud Thunder, has been mixed at best, but no one will ever forget the stunt Clap Your Hands pulled off at its inception. They could drop 10 stinkers on us from here on out, but the magnitude of that initial feat will forever remain extraordinary.
Heading into the concert, however, I was kind of nervous, having heard more than a couple horror stories about the band’s live show. In fact, a cigarette buddy offered that the band’s show in Atlanta a few nights before was terrible. She told us this 10 minutes before the band took the stage, not exactly heightening anticipation. Ever gone to see a movie and had someone ruin it for you in the parking lot? Kinda that same feeling here, though once the music started any worry was put to rest.
The main culprit in a poor Clap Your Hands show is almost universally said to be the sound. If it’s not working, the band’s no good, so the story goes. Well, it was working. The sound was amazing and the show followed suit. One thing that becomes abundantly clear almost immediately is that Ounsworth’s voice is not affected. It sounds much the same speaking as it does in song. While that might rub some the wrong way, it works in the band he started.
In fact, the band’s overall sound translated surprisingly well to the live show context. The superb musicianship (Ounsworth is an unexpectedly good guitar player) and the hyper-kinetic drums pushing everything forward brought the energetic songs to life. Naturally the propulsive songs on the debut were the crowd pleasers, but the new, more complex and seemingly obtuse songs worked much better live than on CD.
The psychedelic freak-out at the end of “Goodbye to Mother and the Cove,” which saw members of Dearland come onstage to play horns through an extended coda, in particular added new dimension to a song many consider a prime example of the new album’s failed experimentation. While it’s true some of the songs don’t make for enjoyable listens on the disc, reconfigured live they reveal the band’s range.
The show’s highlight was “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth,” which should come as no surprise, as it’s the highlight of the band’s debut and possibly its best song. Clap Your Hands only has two albums of material to work with, but the rockers chose their set judiciously, playing almost every song they’ve released but in a definite order that maximized impact. That’s an important point to make, one I think goes back to the problems people have had with the band’s live show thus far: They seem to be on the tail end of figuring it out, realizing what works and what doesn’t and how to best maximize Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s unique aesthetic.
So maybe Ounsworth turns his back to the audience too much while jamming out. That’s nitpicking what was a fantastic show. If you love this band you would have loved this show. The crowd definitely dug the band, and the band in turn loved the crowd. Ounsworth muttered something about how Nashville was the best crowd of the tour so far, making a point to mention how he never says such things. Regardless of whether or not he was lying to make a loving crowd feel loved, the band seemed to appreciate the audience almost as much as the audience appreciated the show Clap Your Hands gave them.
You see, indie fans, that’s the secret right there: Be nice to your favorite bands, and they’ll reward you with an awesome concert. Show some respect, and they’ll show you a good time. Stop staring at your shoes while wondering if anyone noticed how awesome you look in your leather jacket and start giving it up for bands that travel the country to come play for you.
You paid the money to go, so you may as well have some fun. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah made sure those in the audience whose heads were in the right place did exactly that.