WASHINGTON, July 30, 2014 — The Clap Your Hands Say Yeah band that took the stage recently at U Street Music Hall is one that has changed quite a bit since they first formed in 2002. Their current iteration points to the evolution of their sound and definitely toward their direction going forward. It’s a much different outfit than the one fans might remember back around 2004.
Up to a hiccup-like break up in 2008, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah had been consistent five-piece lineup since its inception. But by the time they went on tour for their recently released album Only Run, the only remaining members from their original roster were front man Alec Ounsworth and drummer Sean Greenhalgh.
Prior to the shakeup, this band was always very much a collaborative effort. Since then, however, it’s turned into something like a singular vision in its approach, clearly reflecting the emerging dominance of its most recognized member.
Alec Ounsworth has indeed taken on the general role as the band’s focal point. He’s always been front and center, the voice of the band and their primary songwriter. But now that seems to be the major emphasis, a change that was up there front and center with Ounsworth in middle singing to the audience at U Street.
All of this sounds a lot more dramatic than it actually is. There was no major coup or split in differences concerning the band’s musical direction because Clap Your Hands Say Yeah remained consistently themselves in their recent performance. A change of pace would be expected, with the band from Philadelphia taking on a new face to represent the shift they’ve felt over the last two years. But then that would be a completely different band. Paradoxically, this isn’t the case.
Instead what the audience at U Street Music Hall heard was a band developing more consistency. Indeed, the major thing is now a three-piece ensemble. They sound remarkably, refreshingly, and comfortably familiar to the band they used to be.
When they began in 2002, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were one of the forerunners of modern new wave/indie pop sound, becoming critically acclaimed on their own terms, which allowed them not only autonomy with their music but how they presented their music. Their live set reflected the extension and continuity of this freedom as they moved through selections from their four albums.
Losing just about half their band has made them sound a bit looser, however. Their angular pop melodies are still present, but the programming is a lot more textured and layered now. It could very easily sound less authentic, especially in a live setting. But Ounsworth and Greenhalgh mix the sound just right for everything to feel as organic as ever.
They were never quite guitar-driven before, with the synths creating most of the band’s hooks and with the guitar work lining and filling in the empty spaces. But that’s less true now with the guitar being pushed further into the background. The atmospherics ultimately control the day, keeping the same dance friendly nature that longtime fans always expect.
Still present, though, is that patented Alex Ounsworth croons. It’s as distinctive as ever. And it’s that constant that has turned this group into his band. It speaks to how clearly the band came across even before the personnel remix that made Ounsworth much more overtly prominent as the band’s sole voice.
And that’s why, strangely enough, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah still feel like the band they’ve always been. It’s the Ounsworth show now, but Clap Your Hands Say Yeah has actually stuck with the sound that made them distinctive from the beginning.