The Phenomenal Handclap Band + Javelin: 11 December 2009 - Bowery Ballroom, New York / Words and pictures by Thomas Hauner
Emulating the first actual cold winter’s night of the season the Phenomenal Handclap Band began their set with the opening track from their eponymous debut, “The Journey to Serra da Estrela.” Its spaced out moaning winds echoed those outside, creating the perfect beginning to a celebratory night (the band returned to New York after months of touring) that was punctuated with repeated surprises. Unfortunately none were musical.
The band’s stoner disco is ideally hazy: over nebulous swaths of harmonies a heavy, requisite, and metronomic groove begs for Donna Summer. Nowhere in this octet was there such a figure. Behind a dominant singer each jam had the potential to become an infectious dance floor anthem. Instead perfunctory vocals made each song frustratingly anticlimactic—something the group’s record manages to avoid. “I Been Born Again” was the exception. Balloons fell from the ceiling at its peak, outdoing the confetti canons, snowflakes, and dry-ice fog deployed prior. While I was sufficiently excited to celebrate New Years three weeks early, pairing each gimmick with a sonic exclamation would have been something great. I suggest hiring a horn section over party decorations next time.
Earlier, opener Javelin got the crowd excited with some bedroom electronica. The Handclap Band’s atonal vocals had nothing on this duo, but somehow it made them more enduring—as if I had just walked in on them unabashedly rocking out to La Bouche in the bathroom with a hair brush.