On this delightful and slightly warm Wednesday night, after failing to resist the taco van parked across the street, this scribe made his way over to the East Brunswick Club to see Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, a quintet from Brooklyn, New York who, this evening, were supported by local all girl band The Icy Poles.
First up were the aforementioned Icy Poles, playing a half hour set. Unfortunately, it proved to be a half hour too long! One hates to say negative things about up and coming bands but, frankly, The Icy Poles simply didn’t cut it as a live act this evening. Influenced by 1960s girl groups such as The Supremes and The Shangri-La’s, The Icy Poles came across like a bad musical photocopy this evening more than anything else. The attempts at harmonies between the girls fell flat, amid constant, annoying feedback from the bass and continual wrong notes.
The biggest problem with The Icy Poles is that, as a band, they are barely above a high school talent quest level of ability and talent.They sounded very thin this evening on stage, especially the barely even there drumming and bass playing, which failed to anchor the sound of the band, as a good rhythm section should, to the point where they were all but drowned out by the chatting crowd arriving to see the headline act. One of the girls mentioned they were nervous about this evening. Frankly, this is not a good enough excuse for a sub par show. File under ‘needs work.’
They even murdered the classic “Love Hurts” via a terrible and borderline unlistenable cover version. This scribe’s Golden Retreiver, Oscar, has a better sense of tune when howling at the moon. They reminded one of legendarily bad-to-the-point-of-being-compelling 1960s girl group The Shaggs. In The Shaggs case, they walked a fine line between being brilliant in their awfulness. Pity one can’t say the same about The Icy Poles.
Thankfully, this evening improved dramatically with the arrival of New York’s Clap Your Hands Say Yeah on stage. The Brooklyn five piece opened up a striking version of “Same Mistake”, off their latest album, Hysterical, the band put in a highly enjoyable performance this evening to a quite impressive crowd, the majority of which were definitely confirmed fans.
Initally showing a strong influence of New York 1970s New Wave acts such as Blondie and Talking Heads, to whom the band has been compared to many times, tonight saw CYHSY really finding their own sense of sound and identity in a musical sense, which the assembled crowd found very enjoyable, judging by the smiling faces around the room.
Tonight was interesting on a few fronts. It was a valuable lesson in overcoming prejudice towards an act. Lead singer Alec Ounsworth has what one could best describe as a rather ‘unique’ voice and vocal style. Make no mistake, like Joanna Newsom and Neko Case, this is a voice that you either love or hate; there is simply no middle ground. This scribe has always hated Ounsworth’s voice, thinking that he sounded either drunk, affected by drugs and/or in pain. It has been a major factor in being unable to fully embrace the band, no matter how musically adventurous they are.
However, if one persists, it is a voice that one can warm to and eventually quite like. Such was definitely the case this evening. Ounsworth’s solo album from late 2009, Mo Beauty, has done him a world of good as a vocalist, forcing him to sing rather than vocally mumble and stumble through his music. This influence has crossed over to his work with CYHSY. While no means a classically beautiful voice, tonight it really made sense in the live context of the band.
Drawing heavily on their latest release, Hysteria, tonight’s CYHSY performance also proved that sometimes music makes more sense and has more of an impact on a live front than a recorded one;although “Hysterical” is a strong step in the right direction, it still fails somewhat to fully translate the snap and crackle that one hears live with the band.
An early highlight was “Satan Said Dance”, off their second album, Some Loud Thunder. This, like many other songs this evening, sounded more visceral and muscular than their recorded counterparts. It was very amusing and pleasing to hear the crowd, unprompted by the band, to yell the ‘said dance’ refrain during the chorus. A definite sign a crowd in the right frame of mind.
Ounsworth proved himself to be one of those beautifully unconventional front men, with a quietly wired energy to him, not unlike front men like Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker and, of course, David Byrne from Talking Heads. One can almost picture him, as a teenager, up the back of the oval during lunchtime with a guitar, sneaking a cigarette and writing songs. He has that charmingly off kilter and different vibe to him, which lends itself well to where CYHSY are coming from musically.
Other musical high points included a wonderful version of “Ice”, which was a delightful display of the band’s quieter, more introspective side. It is heartening to see CYHSY exploring different facets and elements of their musical sound. There was a strong selection of tracks this evening from the band, such as “Broken Memory”, “Is This Love?” (no, not the Bob Marley one!), the brilliant “Maniac” off the latest album; and “Tidal Way”.
This scribe’s favourite moment this evening, and definitely that of the crowd judging by the frenzied dancing and head nodding was “The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth”, of their debut self titled album. A really striking and off kilter, left of centre track, it also was a great showcase this evening for Ounsworth’s voice at its most effective and also how together CYHSY are as a band, and their sense of musical tightness and everything fitting together really well.
The night conluded with a two song encore, which featured the wonderfully slow burning “Adam’s Plane”, which was a fantastic example of the band’s understanding of quiet/loud musical dymanics-a really great track which definitely took on a life of it’s own this evening. The ironically titled “Heavy Metal” was a great way to finish what was a thoroughly enjoyable and accomplished set from one of the more interesting band to emerge from America in the past few years.