The long gestation period between their last two albums sparked rumours that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, once a blogosphere phenomenon, were en route to splitting up. Hysterical was considered a return to form after the sometimes faltering Some Loud Thunder and a barn-storming set a last year’s Electric Picnic seemed to cast away any doubts that they were finished as a band. Even though they are making their debut on a Galway stage – as part of the Once Upon a Time Down the West festival – it’s like the audience is welcoming back an old friend they were worried had gone for good.
The noticeable absence of any material from Some Loud Thunder – bar the dark disco of ‘Satan Said Dance’ – shows that they have taken their mis-steps on that album and turned them into strides for their third. Opening with ‘Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away’ from their debut, lead singer Alec Ounsworth, eyes closed, vulnerably intones “I found a new face / staring back at me”, throwing off the shroud their second album cast over them and ushering in a reinvigorated group more akin to the one that had leagues of skinny jeaned legs dancing when the band first imploded through the internet.
It’s hard to believe, watching the chemistry between the members of the band, that people feared them to be calling it a day. Ounsworth – zen-like, swaying in half time to the beats – floats effortlessly through the set, teasingly mouthing unknown lyrics just of reach of the mic between verses. The Sargent brothers’ deftly played strings come across as pure, calculated cool, leaving bear-like drummer Greenhalgh to knock seven shades of sound from his kit, whipping multi-instrumentalist Robbie Guertin into a frenzy.
Although it’s the opening guitar picks of ‘Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth’ that gets the venue reeling, the band show a distinct range in their musical approach: the reflective memories of ‘Misspent Youth’ and ‘In a Motel’ sit comfortably alongside the aptly titled ‘Hysterical’ and bittersweet rush of ‘Ketamine and Ecstasy’ as they move effortlessly between tempos. Similarly, they never lose the crowd during the quieter numbers; every ear in the house staying keenly tuned to Ounsworths hushed lilt. Finishing with the ‘Heavy Metal’ call to arms, their show tonight proves that trends can come and go, and multimedia buzz can swallow some bands before they reach the full potential, but if the talent is there and the drive remains, the music will speak for itself.