There are few things more problematic for a band than a highly successful debut album, and probably nobody knows this better than Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (CYHSY). Their self-titled, self-released debut album was a game changer for the independent music world, still in its nascent stages in 2005, and a follow-up that could expand upon their infectious formula for a danceable, listenable pop song was unlikely to say the least.
The good news is that, regardless of how you rate their records, CYHSY are clever enough musicians to sensibly and seamlessly blend their entire discography into one well-crafted show that is rewarding for almost any type of listener. Those steady, mellow tunes from the first album are all there, and in some cases (“Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away,” “Heavy Metal”) retooled with a bigger, crashing, more climactic feel to accommodate heavier material from their newest effort, Hysterical. Driving, psychedelic new selections like “Into Your Alien Arms” and “Hysterical” contrasted well with lighter, airier moments like “Misspent Youth” and a solo acoustic rendition of “In a Motel,” courtesy of vocalist Alec Ounsworth. Given the frantic pace of Hysterical, some of the newer tunes tended to sound more like spurts than complete thoughts, but the record translated beautifully overall, sending a sizable SOhO crowd into a frenzy worthy of the album title. Ounsworth’s voice, which sometimes comes off as cartoony on record, resounded comfortably above the mix as he ranged between piercing lilt (“Over and Over Again”) and sonorous baritone (“Details of the War”). As a vocalist, Ounsworth’s range lends great versatility to CYHSY, but undoubtedly his greatest weapon is his lyrics. Lines like “Success is so forbidding, but it makes me think I’m winning / Quiet, dim the lights, adopt another lifestyle” from “Over and Over Again” recall the nonchalance of their fellow New Yorkers LCD Soundsystem, and Ounsworth’s delivery is equally emotional and satisfying. In any case, it seemed all too soon when they vacated the stage after “Heavy Metal,” incurring a collective groan until they returned to finish up with “Adam’s Plane” and “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood,” an appropriate pairing of old and new to complement the night.