Clap Your Hands Say Yeah At Shepherd’s Bush Empire

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah have always been a contrary band. From the well-worn story of their meteoric, record label less rise through music blogs in 2004 to the inevitable critical backlash and lengthy hiatus when everyone assumed they’d broken up.

But the boys from Brooklyn returned in late 2011 with their third album Hysterical, which garnered reviews that straddled both ends of the spectrum and a marathon set of tour dates.

Such is the CYHSY legend, it’s nigh on impossible to listen to their music outside the boundaries of their first self-titled record.

Detractors have been quick to pounce on them as a one-album wonder who failed to live up to their early hype, but CYHSY fans will argue just as vehemently that they’ve evolved with each album into a more mature band.

But what does all this mean for their live show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire tonight?

Interestingly enough, the indie darlings seem to encapsulate the push and pull of their own story in a show that went from nervously rushed to satisfyingly accomplished over the course of the eve.

Famous for those upbeat tempos that feature throughout their music, CYHSY opening songs seemed sped up beyond even their usual standards. With frontman Alec Ounsworth hunched apprehensively over his microphone, it almost felt as though the band were hurriedly rushing through their material just so they could get the hell off stage again.

Three tracks in and Satan Said Dance still failed to ignite the crowd, as the epic meandering quality of this number seemed to get lost in translation.

This only increased as CYHSY burned through old favourite Gimme Some Salt in a blaze of rapid guitars and hastily sung lyrics, instead of the slow and sexy ditty fans have come to know and love.

But the move to more acoustic territory seemed to relax Ounsworth, with the rest of the band feeding off this and the crowd’s energy.

Having visibly and audibly loosened up, CYHSY proceeded to pump out a range of songs while appearing as though they were having a good old jam. By the time Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth came around, the crowd were bouncing around with abandon to the incredible live sound being cranked out.

CYHSY have proven tendencies towards the epic and anthemic, but tonight they proved themselves more than capable of creating complex arrangements. With Ounsworth’s poetic lyrics and high-pitched, polarising voice, this combination makes for some powerful stuff.

Talking about their lengthy hiatus in between tracks, Ounsworth declared none of them had believed they were finished as a band. Seeing the guys in full flow proved this instinct to be well founded.

And if they focus on their musical strengths, CYHSY may finally be able to break away from the success of that first album and show the world they’ve still got plenty to offer.

Rozzy Middleton

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February 2012
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