1:56 pm Feb. 20, 2012
Nublu, the bar-cum-venue on Avenue C between 4th and 5th Streets, is not a large place. Still, the ten or so steps from the stage to the front door can take an eternity when it’s as packed as it was Thursday night to see the Phenomenal Handclap Band’s first show on its home turf in months.
I trailed behind Laura Marin, the smoky-eyed, recently-recruited lead singer of the group, which was first started in 2008 by friends and veteran dance DJs Daniel Collas and Sean Marquand, and it indeed took nearly forever to make it to the door. It seemed as if everyone in the crowd was a friend of Marin’s, and wanted to stop her to say hello, to congratulate her, or just to have an excuse to momentarily bask in the reflected glow of an this energetic, self-effacing Peruvian-born beauty.
“Did you pay?” The band’s manager was posted next to the entryway all night, stopping everyone who entered with a steely gaze and that stern question. The cover was worth it: everyone at the show got a free copy of the record (except those on the guest list, sadly for me).
Thursday's show served as both homecoming and celebration for Handclap—their second album, Form and Control, was released this week. The group's newest recruit, yet a crucial element in their sound, Marin got her start in Portuguese-language bands after falling in love with the music of Brazil, and joined Handclap in the space between their first and second albums.
“I was like, ‘Are you sure you guys want me to sing?’” Marin told me once we finally made it outside, as if she couldn’t possibly understand what a band would want with a captivating lead singer. “I mean, I have an accent . . ." she trailed off. Whether it's simply the accent or actually her terrific voice, something must be working. Not only did Marin captivate the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, but she impressed legendary music icon Bryan Ferry enough that he had Handclap open a stretch of shows for him last fall (his first solo tour in nearly a decade). But Ferry wasn't done with Marin yet.
"He emailed my manager to ask if I want to work with him, and she asked me, and I was like 'Yes! Say yes right away!!!'”
Handclap is an unusually large band, but what was for a while an eight-piece outfit recently slimmed down to six (still too many for all of them to fit on Nublu's tiny stage). For its first release, the group had a kind of rotating cast, featuring such luminaries as TV On the Radio’s Jaleel Bunton, Jon Spencer from the Blues Explosion, Nick Movshon, bass player for Amy Winehouse, and even rapper Lady Tigra of L’Trimm. The more recent lineup is every bit as funky, thanks in part to the finely bearded and supremely slick guitarist Bing Ji Ling (Quinn Luke).
Still, even with a more compact group it's missing the point to cast any one person as the star. The band works together, creating a pan-cultural mélange of Latin, disco, early synth-pop, and trance-inducing '90s-style dance sounds that leave a glowing wake of joy and sweaty Manhattanites.
“There was this review of the new video,” Marin said, laughing. “And it said ‘Really? They multiplied? They’re already I dunno how many!’” It turns out it's not just to have a big sound that the numbers are kept large. “It’s because we just want to have fun!” Marin said. It shows.
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