The National, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah / Sept. 23, 2005 / Chicago (Schuba's)
Friday night, the National played two shows at Schuba's, one of Chicago's cozier and more inviting clubs. The first, featuring Talkdemonic opening, failed to immediately sell out. The second, featurinThere's a difference between buzz and hype. Buzz is an honest excitement backed up by results. Hype is excitement of a more considered, manufactured sort, and while both may lead an act to the same place, it's buzz that stands the better chance of growing into something bigger and hype the better chance of hitting a brick wall.
Friday night, the National played two shows at Schuba's, one of Chicago's cozier and more inviting clubs. The first, featuring Talkdemonic opening, failed to immediately sell out. The second, featuring Clap Your Hands Say Yeah as openers, did so weeks in advance.
There's no question Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's self-titled, self-released album is something of a quiet phenomenon. According to its manager, the CD has sold 20,000 copies since June alone and landed the group major distribution. But hype levels are already so out of hand that the club had to make special point of informing fans that CYHSY was not playing both shows, just the second one.
To be fair, much of this is out of the band's hands, and its debut does show real potential. But anyone buying into the hype too much is bound to be disappointed. After all, while the album is fine, it certainly can't support all the noise, and live the Brooklyn/Philadelphia group fared even worse.
Part of the problem is singer Alec Ounsworth, on the surface something of a Jonathan Richman/Gordon Gano type, but without the quirky charisma of either. He's a black hole standing at the center of the stage, bringing little to the music besides his distinctive nasal voice. The other problem is that live the rather pedestrian nature of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's indie rock revealed itself more clearly, the melodies mostly minimalist to the point of weakness.
Like the record there was really just one highlight -- "The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth" -- but perhaps not willing to belie the hype the crowd reacted to each song like the group was the second coming of the Arcade Fire. And that's probably not far from many minds: no one wants to miss the Next Big Thing coming, so they're willing to set aside any reservations and hop on the Clap Your Hands bandwagon to say they were there.
But if the audience really cared about the Next Big Thing, or live music in general, half of them wouldn't have streamed out after Clap Your Hands finished its short set, and would have stuck around for the truly galvanizing, inspiring performance by the National. "This is the most fun we've ever had," said singer Matt Berninger, twice. No doubt because he knew something all the early vamoosers didn't: that the National were blowing Clap Your Hands Say Yeah off the stage with every song.
The group's third album, "Alligator," is pretty great, but it really gives no indication of how remarkable the Brooklyn by way of Ohio band is live. Many of the dozens that left following Clap Your Hands Say Yeah will no doubt grouse to friends that the band didn't live up to expectations -- a text message one audience member held up to a friend read "Clap Your Hands say overrated." The crowd that stuck around for the National, on the other hand, surely left with their expectations exceeded, and will probably tell their buddies as much. That's buzz right there: honest and earned.