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The National + Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

(9 Sep 2005: Bowery Ballroom — New York)


Clap Your Hands Say Yeah


One should be wary of the New York hype machine—it’s a beast. People from all over the world move to this storied metropolis with hopes to see their wildest dreams come true. And with hard work, a tough backbone, flourishing talent, and a dash of luck, the cream often finds a way to the top.


They say if you can make it here you can make it anywhere, and that’s true because this city doesn’t tolerate the complacent soul. “Merciless” is the wrong word because a New Yorker would never be compelled to kick you when you were down; they’d be too preoccupied with grabbing your rent-controlled apartment, your promotion, and that ex-girlfriend you hadn’t quite gotten over.


Very few things are ever handed to you (just ask any subway denizen) so you have to strike when the iron is hot. So when this personified hype machine takes hold of a band in this city, touting them as the second coming of INSERT THE BLANK, it must be taken with a grain of salt. Because for every Television, Ramones, or Interpol there is an I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House and a Rockets & Cars.


Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and The National are both making regular blips on the hipster radar. They are sharing the same stage and I may be one of the only few people standing in the Bowery Ballroom who understand why the opener isn’t headlining.


CYHSY’s abridged story goes something like this: small, unsigned New York band scrapes together cash to press 2,000 copies of their self-released debut. Critics get their paws on it and sing from atop their soapboxes that these guys are the best thing to come out of New York since The Talking Heads. Why? Because, well, they sound a heck of a lot like The Talking Heads. Offers come pouring in from various indie (and major) labels and, while they weigh their options, the band presses 10,000 more copies of the record and revels in the sudden burst of TLC.


It is a good thing that mostly their fans have packed the room tonight because I don’t think the uninitiated would have been that dazzled. It is unclear a few songs into the set if the sound technician is asleep or if Alec Ounsworth’s voice is just another product of studio production. His words barely carry over the jangling guitars and saturated sonics that envelope him. His voice is warbled as he has a difficult time enunciating the lyrics. Tonight Ounsworth is more David Lee Roth than David Byrne.


Each song is immediately recognizable though and the crowd dances in place during “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth” as every person under 25 (except me) belts out the words and a New York City lyrical reference gets everybody saluting their new favorite band, Bud Lights reaching high. This clearly is a show for the fans, as nobody seemed the least bit disenchanted after what I’m sure even the band would call an off night. What’s more, a large portion of the audience trickled out the doors when the lights came up.


An older crowd filters in for The National, refilling the room by the time the band takes the stage. They play mostly songs off their excellent recent album Alligator, as lead singer Matt Berninger paces across the stage with his eyes closed tight. The dancing NYU kids have gone home to bed and now the adults are up drinking scotch and listening to sounds of regret, confession, and hopelessness, all transformed with sing-a-long panache.


Though the words are often odd and ambiguous, the sentiment is there and genuine. For every “I am a birthday candle in a circle of black girls” we get a gem like “This isn’t me/ you just haven’t seen my good side yet” and it just simply works.


It’s the National’s tight rhythm section that gives the music its backbone and wraps Berninger’s sultry baritone in a warm quilt. The loudest the band gets all evening is during Alligator closer “Mr. November” and the room starts hopping during the electric chorus of “I won’t fuck us over/ I’m Mr. November,” as the drums pound away.


Though both bands have excellent albums out, those of us who stayed for both sets found out which has their live show locked. It’s ok though, NYC is a tough town; no need to fret. We might still see great things form CYHSY if we let the buzz die down a bit and remember that it’s a big jump from JV to Varsity, especially for a freshman.

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