(Above: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah cools off outside Philadelphia’s First Unitarian Church after a raucous, sweat-soaked set. [L-R]: Robbie Guertin, Tyler Sargent, Alec Ounsworth, Lee Sargent, [not pictured: Sean Greehalgh])
Sounds like a great idea, right? I mean, nothing says rock ’n’ roll like an honest-to-God, church-basement show. This was an opportunity for the irreverent spirit of the rebel sound to coexist with the Holy Spirit in perfect harmony. The concept is indeed a cute one, but in the case of Philadelphia’s First Unitarian Church, there could be no worse venue outside of, let’s say, Iraq.
On Wednesday night Internet buzz boys Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, local duo Grand Buffet, and Youngsters (as in, Neil) Magnolia Electric Company performed in the blistering heat of an un-air-conditioned venue with a few semi-operable fans acting as the only relief. When I first walked into the makeshift concert hall, I was embraced by a propulsive hotness so intense it almost knocked me to the floor. The sweat of 450 local hipsters rained on me vertically as both my glasses and camera instantly fogged up with a layer of almost soluble moisture. I’d tell you I saw Clap Your Hands Say Yeah perform a terrific, passionate set but that would be lying. I could only hear them. And from what I heard, the band—still a bit baffled by the sudden explosion of interest—played nearly their entire celebratory debut album (with the exception of two songs) along with a couple unreleased tunes to a euphoric, dancing crowd. There was a general thrill in the room, a definite change from the usual jaded surroundings I find in New York City. But in all my years of attending shows, it’s been extremely rare to see a full-capacity crowd for the opening band, in this case, the first of three. And it should also be noted that it’s even more rare to see the crowd pile out after said band’s performance is over. After CYHSY left the stage, almost everyone left with them. Sadly, this came as no surprise to the venue—a sign at the door read, “Tonight’s show is sold out but if you come back at 9:30, we may be able to let you in.” How encouraging is that to the headliner?
Grand Buffet, a two-man Caucasian rapping team that puts more emphasis on the “boy” than the “beastie” worked the crowd like, er, there had been an actual crowd. While their lyrics revolving around candy bars, sweat shops and Skeletus—the father of Jesus Christ—were sporadically funny, I was mostly too preoccupied by their obsession with Robin William’s Patch Adams, which they dedicated just about every song to; this should give you an idea of their laddish humor.
Finally, Jason Molina’s Magnolia Electric Company took the stage, six members strong and rocking a consistent, earnest set nonplussed with whether there were ten people in the crowd or 10,000. Despite songwriter Molina’s unassuming presence, he orchestrated a gargantuan sound that would not have been out of place at Woodstock. The band’s classic-rock riffs are so authentic, they feel vintage. Opening with “The Dark Don’t Hide It” and “What Comes After The Blues,” I reveled in the resonance of a seasoned rock band, regretting on behalf of those who left too early.