|CYHSY at Club Cafe 7/24/14. All photos (c) PMR|
Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah has a pleasant speaking voice that would play well on public radio. I could listen to him coo traffic updates and stock reports all day long, from the comfort of an overstuffed leather chair, sipping from my tiny cup of espresso. Yet when he sings its an altogether different voice, yet it too is pleasant one.
My friend Matt, who came with me to the show, said that Ounsworth's singing reminded him of a combination of Bob Dylan, Andrew Bird, and Thom Yorke. I don't know about Bird, but many of the songs I heard Thursday began with that relaxed delivery reminiscent of Dylan. Ounsworth rides this plainspoken entry into a yelping, near-falsetto peak in nearly every one of the tracks. It's certainly unconventional, even jarring at first, but it adds an emotive heft to the tracks quite nicely, and pretty soon its just another part of the sonic tapestry.
The band's new album, Only Run, didn't feature as prominently in the setlist as one might expect, though this was the opening night of the tour, so maybe they'll ease some new tracks into the repertoire over time. That album, which just came out a few months ago, instantly reminded me of Radiohead. After seeing CYHSY live, and hearing Ounsworth's emotive delivery backed by equal parts synths and guitar, I still think that the analogy fits. And while Radiohead is certainly not a bad band to be compared to, I don't want the comparison to minimize what they've accomplished on this new album. I could never get into the band's first couple albums; I'm thinking now they needed repeated listens. But the new material clicked for me on the first go around, and I think it did in-person with the audience as well.
The crowd was a boisterous one; they clearly hadn't read Scott Mervis' recent piece on concert etiquette. The noise from the bar seemed to get on Ounsworth's nerves a bit, as he joked between songs that he "didn't have to carry the whole room." The rowdies were shushed handily by those immersed in the set, most of whom spent the entire night dancing along. Some excellent drumming propelled the rhythm heavy songs, and it was nice to actually hear the bass for a change.
As I said before, the singing was unconventional, but that's just part of the band's charm. I think the Radiohead comparisons came to me precisely because the band manages to be both unconventional and relatable. That's why they arrived on the scene with such a splash nearly a decade ago. And that's why they carried the crowd at Club Cafe last night.
The highlight for me was "As Always," the leadoff track from the new album and the first of a two song encore. It was heavy, a little bit different, and had the crowd cheering for more. Hopefully it won't take so many years for the band to visit again next time. They're only six hours away in Philly, after all.
Local rockers Wicked Chief opened with a more conventional but still striking set. Their lead singer cut a dramatic figure with his long, dark hair and black shades. I only caught the last few songs but will make it a point to catch their whole set next time. They headline the Smiling Moose Saturday, August 16.
Here are some photos from the evening:
CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH
-- B. Conway