Clap Your Hands Say Yeah @ Manchester Academy 1 (2.2.07)
Last night, the Unofficial Manchester Music Bloggers Coalition descended on Manchester’s Academy 1 to see if Clap Your Hands Say Yeah could translate their difficult (meaning awkward) second album to the stage. In attendance, along with me, was The Ledge from The Indie Credential, Jon from Black Country Grammar and she who never pays, Prudence. Despite the fact that the night took the shape of a traditional boozy gig-going experience, complete with getting beer spilt on my trainers and intermittently losing people, it couldn’t have been more Web 2.0 if we’d have spent the night communicating via MySpace messages on Blackberries. The Ledge was even wearing a sodding Voxtrot t-shirt, for fuck’s sake! At a gig where Cold War Kids were supporting nonetheless!
We managed to miss Cold War Kids, due to a lack of pre-gig drink synchronisation (at any given point, we all had wildly varying amounts of drink left), a fact that I wasn’t all that bothered about. I’ve made my thoughts on CWK public in the past and if I wanted to be hectored and mewled at by a religious guy, I’d go to the church over the road. All eyes were on Clap Your Hands Say Yeah anyway, to see if the strange, meandering, fuzzy new songs would stand up in the company of the immediate, loveable indie-pop of the first album.
I’d seen CYHSY a couple of times before and there was a marked improvement in stagecraft between the first and the second time. The band, most notably frontman, Alec Ounsworth, seemed to have grown in confidence in the four months that separated the gigs. At the Music Box in November 2005, Alec was a reticent, cripplingly shy presence, often with his back to the crowd, whereas the following February, at Academy 2, he was front and centre, often sporting a broad grin.
Last night’s gig was always going to be a different kind of show from the point it was moved up to the larger Academy 1, a venue more suited to rock bluster than intimate, winsome experimental pop songs and it was evident for most of the night that CYHSY may well become victims of their own success in that the halls they’re being booked to play are bigger than their own ambitions. Nevertheless, the room was packed with a mixture of hardcore converts and curious day-trippers, all eager to see whether this little band from Brooklyn could rock a room this size.
Well, the answer was yes, sometimes. Anyone hoping that this would be an emphatic, critic-answering return to the live arena would have been disappointing as it appears that CYHSY might take a little while to successfully weave the new songs into their set lists without them halting the concert’s momentum, or worse, jarring horribly. To be fair to them, this was the first night of the tour and they probably won’t hit their stride until a few more stops down the road, but it was sometimes clear that CYHSY don’t even know what their best songs are.
This became evident early on with the curious decision to fritter away the tempestuous, nervy punk-funk of ‘Satan Said Dance’ as the second song. By delivering this song at a point when the crowd are only just getting warmed up, it was stripped of a little of its inherent power to move people. A few hardy souls took to cutting a rug or two, but had it come much later in the set, it would have slayed. Also, ‘The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth’ was played about halfway through the set when in any sane world it would always be saved for the encore.
The songs from sophomore album, Some Loud Thunder that got an airing were often surprising and not always in a good way. For instance, ‘Love Song No. 7’ is a good album track, but its not conducive to trying to win an increasingly stubborn crowd over. The album’s title track, the recorded version of which has been the subject of much internet debate, due to the decision to drown its beautiful melody in fuzz and distortion (a move that took a few listens for me to ‘get’ but which now makes perfect sense), when stripped of the redlining drums and ear-bleeding guitars fell a little flat. Sure, it’s a nice little pop song but Dave Fridmann’s studio effects give it that added frisson that it lacks otherwise.
Less clunky were the likes of ‘Mama, Won’t You Keep Those Castles In The Air And Burning?’ and ‘Goodbye To The Mother & The Cover’. The lush strum of the former was a bit of a lighters-in-the-air moment, while the latter’s sharp arpeggios rang through the room with a resonance that was as chilling as it was edifying. However, why they chose to omit the album’s most immediate song, ‘Underwater (You & Me)’ is beyond me.
The songs from the self-titled debut were reliably rousing, especially ‘In This Home On Ice’ and ‘Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood’, but by the time they encored with a bruised ‘Is This Love?’ and an ebullient ‘Heavy Metal’, the damage was already done. It’s not irreparable though and if I know anything about this band it’s that they’re still on a learning curve, refusing to stoop to complacency whilst making some of the most interesting pop music coming out of America. This willingness to evolve and change as per their whims is what stands them in good stead for the point where the hype dies away a little and they’re back to playing smaller venues to adoring devotees or, conversely, figuring out how to project their idiosyncratic indie to the back of halls the size of Academy 1.