Clap Your Hands and Say “The Fame”

The recent band endorsement war between the Village Voice (The Hold Steady) and NY Press (The Fame) convinced me to go see The Fame at the Knitting Factory. It was my first New York City show and it seemed appropriate to check out such a hyped local band.

The Fame does play catchy classic rock, but only after the show ended did I realize the band that drew the biggest crowd was Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah, who played the second of four sets. I have witnessed this phenomenon often — the crowd (or consumers in general) are so terrified by being labeled “mainstream,” (think “witch” during the Inquisition) that they resort to endorsing any artist (or product) who still plays (or is being sold in) small venues (stores). The Fame plays good rock’n’roll, but too many people know about them now, so we’ll just turn our attention to other upcoming bands, the self-conscious musicistas says.

The cultural validity of a rock band, a book, a Web site, a trend is the breaking point between “mainstream consumers” and “hip connoisseurs.” Let’s stay with the music analogy for a while. The Arcade Fire’s “Funeral” was a marvelous record. I saw them in November 2004, when they were in the limbo between indie cult status and heavy radio rotation. Back then they played for a crowd of a little more than 100 people at Mojo’s in Columbia, Mo. Most of us in attendance realized this band will not be ours to keep — we might even have to share it with those who buy music at Starbucks.

Eight months later, The Arcade Fire has been featured in all mainstream media, played their first stadium gig at Coachella and made it onto the soundtrack to HBO’s Six Feet Under. The band sounds as good as they did on their first record, about to be re-released. But is it cool (hip, trendy, special) to discover them now? Probably not if you’re an urban music snob. If you’re not, then try bringing up The Arcade Fire with people who moved on to other Canadian imports and they will tell you the band is so 2004.

So who is, like, so now? Almost everybody that hasn’t signed a distribution deal with a major record label and has a few songs available for download is a safe bet. This is not to say I’m waiting for MTV or late-night talk shows to endorse a band before I get into it. I also enjoy discovering and sharing music with a small crowd. The first time I saw Straylight Run in July 2004, very few people in the audience gave a damn — they were there for Rooney. Seven months later, although still the opening band, they had more than half the audience singing along. Now they are opening for bands that have long lost their underground buzz status.

It’s cool to be a music snob — just ask the people at Pitchfork — but there is nothing wrong with sticking with a band after it becomes popular — yes, as long as they don’t start writing songs for Britney’s post-baby record.

Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah was a great discovery even if, once again, I came across them right before they’ll make headlines (bigger ones). Last night, David Bowie was reportedly watching from the balcony. That endorsement will be enough to send some looking for a less popular band. Not me, I enjoy sharing and sticking around. Hell, I went to see Marilyn Manson tour behind his greatest hits record. It doesn’t get more uncool than that.

* The other two bands who played the Knitting Factory last night were the “gay vague” (a trend about to die now that it made the NY Times Sunday Style section) Ghostland Observatory from Austin and Man in Gray.

8 Responses to “Clap Your Hands and Say “The Fame””

  1. I can’t really comment on this phenomenon…

    Everyone knows my favorite band is one of the most over-hyped of all time. However, does it count that I listened to the Beatles when I was 7??

    Good to see this blog. Keep it coming. Some pictures, too?

  2. dead on, except one minor cultural point: During the Inquisition you didn’t want to be a Jew. It was bad to be a witch during the Salem Witch trials (okay, probably the inquisition too, but you get my point).

    Coincidentally, Pitchfork reviewed Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah today- 9.0.

    Right now I’m really pissed off at that ego-bloated Billy Corgan. In high school he was my hero, now he takes out an ad in the Chicago Tribune the day he releases his (mostly unlistenable) solo album. Prick.

    (josh, duh)

  3. Erin "who is obviously lame for knowing nothing about music" Marlowe Says:

    I still don’t know anything about music. The sad thing is that I don’t even know where to begin to know something about music. I hate reading what other people write about music. I hate listening to new cds until like the ninth time through.
    How can I work through this deeply seeded ambivilence? And why is it cool to be a music snob?

  4. I think it sucks being a music snob. This is my one man crusade against musical snobishness. 🙂

  5. Good luck. 🙂 The assholes are everywhere.

  6. I’m with you, Christian. There is an increasing need to be ahead of the curve, which reminds me of an old joke:

    “how many indie rockers does it take to change a light bulb?

    you mean you don’t know?!?!”

  7. Interesting that David Bowie was there since they mention him in their best song on the album, “Over and Over Again (Lost and Found).”

    – Jeff

  8. I still need to hear these guys…Have you heard The Autumn Project? – They’re a nice instrumental post-rock group with Sigur Ros, Mogwai, Godspeed! influences

Leave a Reply