A drab brown building, accessible only after waiting on line an hour out in the cold, houses the last stop of the European leg of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah‘s tour. Entering the second floor of Covo Club from the external staircase (the only apparent entrance), the first room is a small square affair with a cramped bar and a long line of people. A blue neon COVO CLUB sign provides most of the ambient light here. The abutting small corridor holds another long line that approaches the first one from the opposite direction; the two lines then smash together into a tight doorway like a snake that’s been recently bisected bilaterally up to the head. That would be the cloak room.
The venue itself is an absurdly built, long rectangle of a room with a small door at one end and a non-awe-inspiring stage raised three feet off the ground on the other. The absurdity of the room’s design becomes apparent when the opening band, Meursault, finishes their take on hard-edged yet effervescent Sonic Youth-inspired noise rock only to climb down off the front of the stage, instruments in hand, and get absorbed into the tightly packed crowd.
There is a brief interlude where guitar techs play Tool riffs for the soundcheck. Twenty minutes later, shouts of “Permesso!” and “Il gruppo!” erupt from the door end of the room as an Italian stage hand raises a tiny flashlight over the crowd like a drum major wielding his baton. He parts the audience with his free hand and leads the charge of a brief parade made up of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
Front and centre from then on, Alex Ounsworth dons a large brown flat cap to go with round spectacles the colour of opaque plastic with, and a white t-shirt with inscrutable text handwritten on it. His presence demands attention and he gets it, commanding the stage through a set heavy on songs from last year’s Hysterical and the bands eponymous 2005 debut. He sings his lines with the same tortured lustre that comes through on the studio albums, his being a singing voice with an admittedly quirky affect that somehow manages to transcend the constructed pretension of, say, Colin Meloy (The Decemberists) and Paul Banks (Interpol). Still, Ounsworth’s garbs and the fact that, when he was younger, the leading man dropped the leading ‘D’ from his surname push him dangerously close to hipsterdom.
Behind him, percussionist Sean Greenhalgh barrels through the songs with all the tenacity of a charging bull. From straightforward rock to syncopated dance, Greenhalgh never misses a beat. He executes his parts with the precision of a machine while retaining the emotive embellishments of a seasoned musician. Bassist Tyler Sargent, completely obscured by the stage left house speaker, is felt but not seen. Sargent’s brother Lee and final member Robbie Guertin maintain a balancing act, switching between guitars and keys as needed.
As the hour-long set drew to a close, CYHSY elected to go straight into their encore rather than fight through the crowd again twice to get on and off stage. They closed the night with some of the very songs that put them on the map – The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth, Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood, and an extended version of Heavy Metal to end.
Clap Your Hands are one of the self-made bands of the internet age. In 2005, music blogs and then review sites raised the band’s profile despite the fact that their debut album (which includes a few rough demos they recorded only as a way to get them more gigs) was self-released and even self-distributed until they went out on bigger tours. Now, seven years and two more albums later, it’s inconceivable that this band with such catchy hooks and impeccable presentation onstage had to at one time struggle to get their music heard.