Union Transfer debuts with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Posted: September 23, 2011

No offense to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the scrappy indie-rock band fronted by Philadelphian Alec Ounsworth, but the headlining act was not the main story at Union Transfer on Wednesday night.

The venue was. The new rock club in the old Spaghetti Warehouse building at 10th and Spring Garden Streets, which once was a railroad storage depot, made its Philadelphia music scene debut, and it didn't disappoint.

The former meatball palace has retained its egg-shaped chandeliers and vaulted ceiling, and added a sparkling state-of-the-art sound system that came across clear and full from every nook and cranny of the room.

That was true during Clap Your Hands' show, which culminated with a two-song encore of the delicate "Adam's Plane," a standout on the group's third album, Hysterical, which came out this week, and the more raucous "Heavy Metal," from the band's 2005 debut - an album burdened with zeitgeist-defining status because the band self-released its music and was a blogosphere favorite.

It was also the case during the captivating opening set by Poliça, the Minneapolis foursome featuring two drummers and the coolly composed singer Channy Moon Casselle, who were the first band to grace the UT stage.

That stage is a movable one and, for this show, it was pushed back to the western wall. That freed up the dance floor - which is open to all ages at the otherwise over-21 venue - to make room for a sold-out crowd of 1,000, which is as many as Union Transfer will hold.

Most nights, the stage will be pushed up for a more intimate capacity of 600. But even with so many bodies in the house Wednesday - some of whom commenced crowd surfing when Clap Your Hands broke out the aggressively bouncy "The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth," like it was 2005 all over again - it never felt the slightest bit crushed or uncomfortable.

The most packed area, predictably, was the space behind the soundboard, which is elevated three steps up, and where alcohol is served. People were chattering under the horseshoe-shaped balcony there, but the sound was not the slightest bit muffled. Kudos to the Fishtown-based Fishtank architecture firm, which designed the space.

In addition to that bar, and the over-21 balcony in the general admission standing-only club, there are two additional bars on the east side of the building (no view of the band) where opening-night scenesters were free to congregate without actually listening to the music. All three bars have a mix of micro- and mega-beers, with local breweries Yards, Troegs, and Philadelphia Brewing Co. all represented.

Union Transfer bands are being booked by local promoter Sean Agnew in conjunction with New York's Bowery Presents. Agnew's home base for a decade has been the basement of First Unitarian Church, which has observed a DIY ethos of breaking down barriers between bands and fans while holding true to a punk-rock ethos of not bothering with details such as air-conditioning or a decent lighting rig.

Which is not to slag off the Church, and here's hoping worthy bands still get booked there. The Handsome Furs show there last month was about as much fun as I've had at a rock concert all year. But Union Transfer ups the ante, with its lineup and its ability to make bands look and sound as good as they can.


Contact music critic Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628, deluca@phillynews.com,

or @delucadan on Twitter.

Read his blog, "In the Mix,"

at www.philly.com/inthemix.

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