Brooklyn band plays at brillobox

In 2005, the Brooklyn-based rock band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah found what every musician in the post-music-industry-collapse age was looking for: critical and commercial success without the restrictions of a record deal.

The group achieved this feat with the release of its first full-length record, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. The disc was an explosive collection of tunes steeped in melody and rich textures. It had the influence of chic New York-based rock bands like The Strokes and Interpol — with a heavy dependence on melodic bass lines and brooding guitar parts — but was even rougher around the edges. Lead singer Alec Ounsworth sounded like Bob Dylan with pneumonia, while drummer Sean Greenhalgh’s beats thumped with such raucousness that you couldn’t possibly predict what was coming next. Even when the record dipped into its more chaotic moments, there was always an intricate balance of rhythm and harmony, spread through the instrumentation of a conventional rock band (two guitars, bass, drums, keyboards).

After the record was met with tremendous accolades — most of its support coming from blogs and music websites — the group shot instantly into rock stardom. They toured the world constantly for two years, all without the help of that coveted record deal.

In 2007, the group released a follow-up, Some Loud Thunder — still without a label in North America but with a distributor — which lacked the vibrancy in songwriting and delicacy in production that made Clap Your Hands Say Yeah so engaging. There was still, however, that strong group mentality that valued contrapuntal interaction between vocals, bass, guitar, and drums.

Now the group is writing songs for a third record, facing an important stage of its career. It was at this stage where The Strokes and Interpol both decided to make a run for mainstream fame, adding slicker and more grandiose production to their sounds. Though the new, more accessible sounds resulted in more radio play and an expanded fan base, critics and long-time fans deemed both records as failures.
Whether it’s after fame or quality, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is taking care over its next release. The show at brillobox this past Tuesday was part of a month-long string of Tuesday night shows, where the band is performing and experimenting with this new material. brillobox — a bar that holds about 125 at maximum capacity — was a cozy, friendly fit for the concept, with a sense of encouragement and excitement rippling through the crowd.

On stage, there was sincerity and engagement from the opening notes. During new tunes, the group would smile at the strong points, frown and head shake at the lackluster ones. On the show’s opener, “Space Junk,” the group played with unrelenting energy as the song moved from an up-tempo shuffle to a funkier, slower pattern. The melodic tendencies in Tyler Sargent’s bass lines were mostly gone, but the chromatic colors in Ounsworth’s vocal lines compensated. New tunes like “Man At The Bar” and “Trotsky’s Fence” also had vibrant vocal melodies from Ounsworth, heavy in rhythmic motifs and syncopations. There was plenty of room for older material, as well. On “Is This Love?” Ounsworth thwacks at his guitar like he is distinguishing a fire creeping toward his arm. The rhythmic propulsion leads to a massive, stampeding climax of shouts and drum smacks. On “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood,” the last song before the encore, Ounsworth shouted defiantly: “You child stars, with your sex, your drugs, and rock and rock and rock and rock and roll!” By now, everyone in Clap Your Hands Say Yeah was smiling. For that moment, the five hotshots from Brooklyn were just a group of boys, proud of their past accomplishments, eagerly looking forward.