Photos by Jason Riedmiller
When we last left Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, it was the spring of this year and the band was working up a new album and debuting new songs – and a new lineup – at Philadelphia’s Theater of Living Arts. To say that the band has undergone an overhaul over the intervening months would be an exaggeration, but CYHSY’s performance last Wednesday at Brooklyn Bowl did reveal a group making some subtly different twists and turns. To the longtime fan, it made for some interesting observations, and for the uninitiated it didn’t matter – as per usual, CYHSY’s throbbing energy and musical precision made moot any desire to study it academically (but it won’t stop some of us).
CYHSY’s aesthetic is equal parts motion and mystery, and this was especially evident in an older song and live favorite, early-set highlight “Satan Said Dance,” from 2007’s sophomore album “Some Loud Thunder.” Disjointed piano, insistent drums, frontman Alec Ounsworth taking his mic off its stand and working the stage, Nick Krill (more on him soon) playing an unhinged synth solo with his elbows – what else could you want?
The setlist traipsed from “Only Run,” the album completed since we last saw the band at the TLA, back to CYHSY’s beloved 2005 self-titled debut, but what the band played mattered less than how it played. There was a sense of urgency in Wednesday’s performance, infused by fill-in drummer Patrick Berkery (The War On Drugs, Pernice Brothers, Bigger Lovers, etc.) and guitarist/synth player Krill, of The Spinto Band and Teen Men, the latter of which opened the evening. Berkery’s playing was tight yet spiked with a shot of danger; Krill, a recent addition, adds not only musicality but a riveting stage presence, knocking his knees together, flailing his hair and contorting his lanky body.
One could argue the merits of CYHSY’s post-debut output (“Some Loud Thunder” is a favorite of this reviewer, while other listeners drifted away after devouring the self-titled debut), but the older songs have taken on classic status among fans. This was clear when the oscillating calliope introduction of “Is This Love” was played, Ounsworth strumming furiously on his electric guitar. It is obvious when squeals of joy emanate from the audience when they recognize “The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth.” But the show experienced no lull when newer songs, like “Into Your Alien Arms” from 2011’s “Hysterical,” joined the fray; maybe songs like these will take on classic status in a few years, or maybe that honor will be reserved for CYHSY’s first, or maybe first two, albums?
“Over and Over Again (Lost and Found),” with its slinky bass line and queasy synths, was a late-set high point, as was another “Hysterical” track, “Ketamine and Ecstasy.”
The set spanned 17 songs, no filler, again showing that CYHSY has a deep catalog from which to draw and the ability to weave newer songs into a set buttressed by old standards.
Preceding a pedestrian mid-’00s indie rock set by Coastgaard, Teen Men, whom we’ve seen previously at the tiny Bog in Scranton, Pa., was a perfect fit to support CYHSY and had no problem filling the much larger stage and venue. The synth rock outfit, with Krill leading the way, traffics in fun, quirky, layered music, all the while the group — joining Krill are Albert Binney, Joe Hobson and Catharine Maloney — interacts with films projected behind them. The songs are strong enough to stand on their own (as you know if you’ve heard Teen Men’s debut EP), but the visual aspect is a welcome and attractive addition.