Five years ago, indie-rockers Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were all the rage, getting lots of hype and seemingly coming out of nowhere. And then, as happens so often whenever there’s hype, there was some backlash. In hindsight, the band’s self-titled debut holds up well. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah hasn’t lived up to expectations since then, however. With the group apparently on hiatus, lead singer Alec Ounsworth came to Chicago Thursday (Feb. 25) for a show at Schubas. It seemed as if a fair number of the fans in attendance showed up for opening act Ezra Furman and the Harpoons. By the end of the night, when Ounsworth finished his set, the attendance was less than you’d expect for a once-hyped indie star.
Ounsworth’s voice has always been a little wobbly, with a tendency to veer off-key. That sort of singing — emotionally searing but potentially grating — has been in vogue for several years now in indie rock. (Furman does it, too.) There’s a thin line between the good and bad when attempt this sort of barely controlled attack on the notes. On Thursday, Ounsworth landed on the good side of that line. With his hat, eyeglasses and mustache, he looked a bit like a character from sort sort of costume drama. And he had an unusual presence on the stage — barely moving around during the instrumental breaks other than tilting his head this way and that.
Ounsworth played songs from his recent solo debut, Mo Beauty, and another record, Skin and Bones, which he made under the moniker Flashy Python. He also played a bit of his repertoire from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, including “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood.” His backing musicians were a lively bunch, bringing a quirky sense of energy to the tunes.