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Just a few weeks ago, I was bemoaning to a friend my disappointment in Hysterical, the third record from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. “It sounds like what would happen if the Violent Femmes recorded with Coldplay’s production team,” I told her, airing my dislike for the record that came out four years after the band’s sophomore effort, Some Loud Thunder. Maybe I’m not the only one who felt that way. Just before the band took the stage at Portland’s Hawthorne Theater, “Black Girls” played over the PA.

After opening with new song “Same Mistake,” Alec Ounsworth and company reached back to their self-titled 2005 debut for “Over and Over Again (Lost and Found).” But here’s the deal: the sound was so bad I had no idea what they were playing for a good minute. The drum and bass completely obliterated Ounsworth’s vocals, not to mention the delicate toy piano melody. Same thing happened for next selection “Gimmie Some Salt.” It took some time to figure out what song they were playing. Not good.

Ounsworth slung on an acoustic guitar for new track “Hysterical” and for a few moments I could hear the music before the rest of the band kicked in. Looking diminutive under a large hat, Ounsworth admitted to feeling “feverish” before the performance. However, he explained that in such cases you feel either “down in the dumps” or “euphoric” as a show progresses and that the latter was definitely the case that evening.

Although the audience danced along, the sound thing was really a problem. An impenetrable wall of feedback did in “In This Home on Ice ” before easing up slightly for a slower version of “Details of the War.” Luckily, the soundboard guy did his job and things improved somewhat as the show progressed, allowing us to shout along to stand-out “Satan Said Dance,” the only tune representing Some Loud Thunder. “That was great!” someone shouted after CYHSY finished, a well-deserved prop for a song well done.

The lack of Thunder songs and a smattering of new tracks indicates CYHSY has not been able to escape the looming shadow of their first record. While new songs such as “Siesta (For Snake)” sounded better without the slick overproduction of LP versions, the crowd and the band definitely seemed more excited about the older stuff, closing out the set with the three-headed monster of “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth,” “Is This Love?” and “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood.” By the time Ounsworth chanted the “child stars” mantra of the final track, the pit was whipped up into a frenzy, jumping up and down and singing along.

After a brief pause, the band returned for a two song encore that included Hysterical stand-out “Adam’s Plane” and old track “Heavy Metal.” The 70 minutes had gone by quickly, the late energy making up for a shaky first half. Imagine what CYHSY could do in a place with a good sound system.

[Photos: Klaus Nauber]

Upcoming CYHSY Live Dates:

11/29/2011
Chicago, IL
Lincoln Hall

11/30/2011
Chicago, IL
Lincoln Hall

12/1/2011
Minneapolis, MN
Varsity Theater

12/2/2011
Milwaukee, WI
Turner Hall

12/4/2011
Urbana, IL
Foellinger Auditorium

12/6/2011
Millvale, PA
Mr. Small’s Theater

12/7/2011
New York, NY
Webster Hall

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