Deaf Institute, Manchester. 03/03/2010
By Peter Rea
It’s great to see The Deaf Institute almost full to capacity. Most are probably here to listen to the song with lots of numbers in it, but there’s much more to The Phenomenal Handclap Band than their Tings Tings-style smash hit.
It’s worth mentioning the support band to put things in perspective. Sophie’s Pigeons are a singer/keys player (Sophie), a female saxophonist and a bloke with a drum. Their songs have a wry sarcasm about them, as between tunes they admit they think their own songs are “crap” and empathise with people who walk for the door to go for a smoke mid set. The drummer confesses he uses the same beat for each tune and they argue amongst themselves as they have more time to fill than expected and can’t remember how the songs go. Self-deprecating, slightly bitter and seemingly not too bothered.
By complete contrast, THE PHENOMENAL HANDCLAP BAND!!! Take to the stage, 7 musician: Kings of Leon look-a-like drummer, 3 rock guitarists, and a hippy keyboard/bleep box controller/singer, flanked by two female vocalists/tambourine players/dancers… from New York.
The set starts, as on their self-titled debut album, like an outtake from Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’. Slow, moody, ticking beat with gentle “Oooh”’s and sharp, crisp guitar. The drummer moves up a few gears and increases the tempo with added laser riffs from the central, skinny headband wearing 60’s retro ringleader. They move up another gear as the guitarists strum a funky rhythm similar to the intro of ‘Long Train Runnin’ by The Doobie Brothers. The stage is alive with funk and enthusiastic gyrating… I want to join this band and tour the world in a modern, suped up VW van and a pair of flares.
‘All Of The Above’ follows, there’s a space disco vibe with a hint of Acid Jazz and Saturday Night Fever… the audience bounce. They introduce vocals in a relatively high-pitched Bee Gees fashion, with Jefferson Airplane backing.
‘Testimony’ has a slower groove but keeps the crowd dancing. The varied vocal options add great depth and variety. New single, ‘Baby’, introduces the soulful rock voice of guitarist Bing Ji Ling (which is Chinese for ice cream). ‘Tears’ is similar but has vocals from Joan Tick, who has a South American sound and expertly swivels her hips whilst wearing a Trilby. The beat and high-pitched guitar creates a tune reminiscent of ‘Listen’ by Urban Species.
The only downside so far is the volume of the crowd’s collective conversations during the quiet songs and the sound engineers continued grappling with the microphone levels. The stage could be brighter too. No criticism of the actual band at all.
‘You’ll Disappear’ has cheeky keyboard stabs and a funky wah wah guitar rhythm that later turns into a full blown, rapid finger-work rock solo that thrills the crowd… and this leads us to ‘15 to 20’, which is instantly recognised. Other female vocalist Laura Marin sings the numbers in monotone and talks through the verses in a crass and sexy manor “so what’s it gonna take to get through to you?”. Pauses expose a bassline that’s straight out of Shaft and the handclapping continues.
‘I Been Born Again’ is a happy finale, with Hammond organ chords and a return of the bright guitar riffs. We’re back in swinging London with retro Acid Jazz outfit Corduroy, and infectious uplifting lyrics.
They return after being enthusiastically summoned for an encore to play ‘The Martyr’, which contains most of the elements previously listed. A 60’s rock, funk, roller disco with crisp and modern LCD Soundsystem style production. They’ve joined a long list of current, positive, fun loving American bands that are refreshing to hear after being exposed to a lot of slow folk and dark, edgy electro.