Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

  • @matildbattersby

Nasal New York indie kids Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were in London last night to remind us why back in 2005 they were tipped to be bigger than The Strokes. Part of the first wave of internet sensations, their self-titled debut garnered more buzz than Lana Del Rey.

But after a difficult second album in 2007 things went rather quiet for four years. Music folklore has it that, stunned by their initial success and the vehemence of the hype machine, CYHSY retreated to wait for the storm to subside. Unluckily for them, but happily for us, their warmly reviewed new album, Hysterical, released in September, and its promotional tour, have brought the electrical atmosphere back.

Kicking the evening off with newer tracks, the quirky singing style of Alec Ounsworth (adenoidal, some say) and heavy 80s indie influences were a warm antidote to the minus temperatures outside. Tripping through most of their back catalogue in a 90 minute set, notably avoiding some of the dodgier songs from Some Loud Thunder, things inevitably hotted up when they brought out material from their first album, which remains their best work to-date.

 “Maniac” was followed by the tingle-inducing “Is This Love?”, which I challenge anybody not to smile at. “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood” had the crowd yelling the chorus back unbidden, the gruff collective noise contrasting with the high-pitched warbling onstage.

The synthesised organ intro of “The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth” heralded the highlight of the evening. Full of attitude, humour and sarcasm it tells the tale of a West Virginia bumpkin moving to New York. The twanging guitars, zippy beats and croakily stylish delivery show just how different CYHSY can be from other indie bands of the same generation.

It has been said before that the CYHSY’s appearance doesn’t quite match the angry, irreverent noise that it makes. All five musicians are nice-looking but unremarkable, dressed nondescriptly. Reticent frontman Ounsworth, in particular, seemed to be trying not to be recognised at all with a cap pulled down over his face obscuring half his features including his trademark Where’s Wally spectacles. He hardly said anything, beyond perfunctory “Thank yous” and kept moving out of the spotlight and into the shadows, hiding himself from the audience.

Let’s hope he and the other CYHSY members won’t hide themselves away again for too long next time.