Finally, a sweat-soaked, beer-spilling revelation of rock ‘n’ roll at this year’s South By Southwest Music Festival. Here’s to you, Henry Clay People! And Joey Siara, you’re my dude now. Come to Nebraska soon to get drunk and kick out the jams.
I first saw the Henry Clay People when they opened for the Airborne Toxic Event in Omaha a couple years ago. I liked their take on ’70s rock and freewheeling Replacements-style drunk punk, but didn’t become a big fan until I lived with their two excellent albums 2007’s Blacklist the Kid with the Red Moustache and 2010’s Somewhere on the Golden Coast for a few months. I had spent SXSW not quite having time to catch them, until Friday. The first set I caught most of was in an auto shop converted to a venue space for the week. The crowd was sparse, but the set, comprised of songs from the band’s forthcoming album, was still live-wired excitement with singer/guitarist Siara jumping on speaker stacks and at one point, bouncing accidently off the side of the stage.
I had to ask about the new material and when its due out (this summer). That’s when Siara told me he’d throw in some tunes from Somewhere… at their next gig, in just over 30 minutes at a club two blocks away. Two gigs within one hour — such is life at SXSW. After checking out the hurtling, SST Records-influenced garage punk of OBN III’s, I trekked back to Lovejoy’s to see just what this second Henry Clay People set would hold.
This time, the room was packed and the band was entirely on fire. In between the rougher, heated cuts from the yet-to-be-released new album, the band threw in “Working Part Time” and “Slow Burn” from their 2010 scorcher. Siara, his brother Andy and their drummer and bassist sweated out the guitar jams, while the crowd pumped fists, raised beer cans and cheered approval. The set ended with a two-song encore, the first encore I’ve seen this week, and Joey Siara brought the crowd down on one knee in reverence to Bruce Springsteen, as the band crushed its own beer-blurred version of “Born To Run”. It connects, as the band definitely are Boss acolytes, but informed by punk rock, Jim Carroll and all the best, straightforward classic rock songs that one would blast out of their Camaro in the ’70s. They stray from the two bands most cited for the current working class rock revival, steering clear of the obvious punk-pop of the Gaslight Anthem, while making the Hold Steady’s stage show seem almost too formal.
Henry Clay People should be your new gods of Friday night boozy blowouts. Amen.
There was more rock ‘n’ roll on tap Friday night too, as Lucero brought its Memphis country rock to Bar 96. The band looks like the sort of crowd you’d see at a roadside diner near a truck stop, but they play like seasoned veterans. The band pairs its barroom country rock with a sizzling slice of Memphis-bred horns, giving this whole thing a soulful undertone. Singer Ben Nicholls bears a life of cigarettes, whiskey, late nights, shitty mornings and women all in his deep, drawling croon. The band’s latest album Women & Work continues the band’s winning streak, with a hungover morning’s worth of songs.
King Tuff, a Sub-Pop signed power trio, delivered the rock ‘n’ roll goods with their lo-fi power-pop sound, that was bred in bedrooms and evolved in a sea of garage rock bands. Singer Kyle Thomas has a knack for writing quick-hit melodies and his band spits them out with startling directness and verve. You’ll get his songs stuck in your head unless you’re dead inside.
Away from the straight-up rock bands, I danced to Polica, a Minnesota indie pop act that rumbles basslines and two drummers with subtle electronics and a captivating female singer. Idaho’s Youth Lagoon played his brand of piano-based indie pop that goes from introspection to widescreen anthem in the course of a song. There’s a ton of promise here. The interplay between piano, synth, pre-recorded beats and the addition of a live guitarist are intriguing and unexpected. Trust also lives in that world of indie rock, where live instruments and electronica meet. They pair live drums and synth in a darker realm of goth-pop, with dueling male-female vocals.