Things had changed a bit since the last time Clap Your Hands Say Yeah visited Portland on an official tour–the band’s lineup had changed significantly, with only frontman Alec Ounsworth and drummer Sean Greenhalgh remaining from the original version. The show also moved to the more intimate confines of Mississippi Studios, a shift from the larger (but grimier) Hawthorne Theatre. Despite these changes, the venue was still packed with the faithfully devoted, and the band delivered with a live performance itself that was as good as ever.
The novice fan would probably be surprised to learn that the guys helping out on bass/synth and guitars/keyboards were new to the group, because the band as a unit was as tight as it’s ever been. The band seamlessly moved between material from throughout their catalog; when listening to their records, each release is distinct from one another, but when performed live a common thread is more readily apparent (beyond the obvious connection of Alec’s distinctive voice). It made for a cohesive show that kept the crowd consistently engaged, even if some of the most excited reactions were reserved for the early stuff.
The setlist emphasized both new material from their just-released album Only Run and their much-beloved self-titled debut, whose highlights like “In This Home On Ice”, “The Skin of My Country Yellow Teeth”, and “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood” inspiring both raucous cheers from the crowd and a lot more dancing than per usual for a Portland show. Though the band only played a couple of songs off of Some Loud Thunder and Hysterical, their inclusions in the set fit perfectly, with “Satan Said Dance” and “Ketamine + Ecstasy” causing the entire crowd to make the show a dance party. However, the biggest surprise of the night was a totally re-worked version of “Some Loud Thunder”, which tossed out the jagged, heavily-distorted rock for the more bedroom-pop style of Only Run, with only the lyrics cluing in the audience as to what they were hearing (though considering how unclear they were in the original, it was a tough task in and of itself). Though I’m a fan of the original, the new version was probably worth the price of admission on its own.
The crowd was in a good mood, having enjoyed a bit of fun with the opener Adventurous Sleeping, a solo project of John Bowers from Nurses, though due to a miscommunication early in his set he was referred to as “Gron” for the rest of the evening. We’ve been seeing a lot of solo acts relying on loops in recent years, but Gron kept it interesting with unusual melodies over spacey beats that intrigued and captivated the audience, and at the very least kept people in the room. It was very much in line with the material from Only Run, so there was a nice connection between the opener and the main set.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s albums themselves don’t immediately stand out as “must-see” live material, but I can say with confidence after seeing multiple shows over the years that the band consistently puts on a great show. Songs that sound sparse or twee on record get an additional heft when played in a live setting, and the sparseness actually becomes a benefit because each distinct part is easier to appreciate, and you don’t have to worry about different instruments bleeding into each other. The group also keeps the show light with a nice touch of self-deprecating humor, and it seems that they’re still genuinely appreciative of the fans that have kept following them over the years. Let’s hope that devoted following remains strong.