Greg M. Schwartz
Summer is finally starting to give way to fall, so it’s just very warm at Stubbs tonight instead of being totally sweltering for this intriguing double bill. The Henry Clay People and Drive-By Truckers might seem like a bit of a mismatch at first glance. The former brings a ragged yet endearingly vibrant alternative rock sound, while the latter is known for more of a bluesy, Southern rock and Americana vibe. But both bands feature a high energy, guitar-driven sound and heartfelt vocals that strike a chord with the soul. So it’s actually a good fit for open-minded listeners.
The Henry Clay People have been building a rising buzz behind their strong new album, Somewhere on the Golden Coast. It’s got an alternative rock flavor that sounds like it could have been concocted in 1992, the golden age of alt-rock. Influences such as Pavement, The Replacements and Neil Young & Crazy Horse seem readily apparent, but there’s a fresh spin that is all the Los Angeles band’s own. There isn’t a huge crowd on hand when the openers hit the stage, but those present receive a treat. Singer/guitarist Joey Siara has a voice that just oozes indie rock and his wry commentaries on the pitfalls of the modern age connect with a certain zeitgeist, yet in a fun way. His brother Andy plays guitar as well and the duo make a strong tandem, blending big chords with infectious melodic lead lines. The piano of Jordan Hudock is another strong flavor in the band’s sound, while bassist Jonathan Price and drummer Eric Scott form an energetic rhythm section.
“We’re gonna come out and drink beers and watch the Drive-By Truckers with ya,” says singer Siara during the set, encouraging fans to come say hello, not that there was any air of pretension with this crew. The band then launches into “Switch Kids”, a raucous and catchy rocker that gets heads bobbing. Bands with such fuzzy guitars usually don’t have a piano player and the combo makes for a great alternative and classic rock blend. Joey Siara then raises his beverage to gives a toast to the headliners for being one of the last great rock ‘n’ roll bands and Austin, for being one of the last great cities. The band follows with their anthemic “Working Part Time”, an instant classic for this age of economic depression. “We got drunk and called in sick when we felt like it,” sings Siara in one of the best lyrics of the year. Siara then notes that Bruce Springsteen’s birthday was the day before, “So now we’re gonna fuck up one of the greatest songs of all time, for the Boss.” The band launches into a raggedy but glorious rendition of “Born to Run” that rocks the house, bringing the set to a triumphant conclusion.
The Drive-By Truckers hit the stage a half-hour later and deliver a lengthy performance that covers every base from blues to Americana to blistering psychedelic jam rock. “The Fourth Night of My Drinking” is an early highlight, with the sweet pedal steel guitar of John Neff shining bright. The band rocks out in an impressive variety of directions. One tune has a heavy bluesy grunge sound ala Neil Young & Crazy Horse, with some wicked wah-wah guitar. Another sounds sort of like the Black Crowes or Tom Petty, while another has a country vibe that recalls Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings. When they mix it all up, The Drive-By Truckers ultimately display a refreshingly unique spin of their own.
They also have a distinct three-guitar attack, with each axeman ready and able to shred hot bluesy licks at any time. Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley display a strong guitar chemistry up front, which seems to build as the set progresses. The last half hour of the set cranks up the energy as the band focuses on their rock repertoire. The rocking “Sink Hole” starts to conjure some of the jamming power that fans might associate with Southern jam rock kings Widespread Panic, who share Athens, Georgia as a home base with the Drive-By Truckers. “Three Dimes Down” continues in a similarly rocking way, with Cooley on vocals and Neff playing some sweet slide licks. But it’s during set closer “Ronnie and Neil”, a tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Muscle Shoals sound of Alabama, that it really starts to feel like a Panic show. The song has a hard-edged Southern blues sound that the band uses as a launch pad into a huge jam that sees the crowd really getting down, with multiple blistering guitar solos over a heavy groove from bassist Shonna Tucker and drummer Brad Morgan.
The band has the crowd really fired up now and rewards the faithful with an epic six song encore that really stands out in an era where most bands only deliver a couple extra songs. The encore here is almost like an extra set. Hood says “Everybody Needs Love” is about the late great Eddie Hinton, who played lead guitar for the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section. The tune features more of the sweet pedal steel from Neff, over a slinky blues groove that builds into a cathartic jam. Cooley sings the romantic “Marry Me”, followed by a ripping jam on the high-powered “Hell No I Ain’t Happy”, that finds one fan starting her own little mosh pit. “Shut Up and Get on the Plane” continues the hard rocking party, with all three guitarists melting face with their smoking solos.
Hood then introduces the next tune, saying “This song is about how rock ‘n’ roll saved our lives as a teenager… and it still does.” The song “Let There Be Rock”, is not a cover of the AC/DC classic but rather Hood’s anthemic ode to falling in love with rock ‘n’ roll upon attending shows by Blue Oyster Cult, Molly Hatchet, Ozzy Osbourne and AC/DC. It struck a chord with the audience who ate up every moment. The band closes it out with “Puttin’ People on the Moon”, a rocker that laments economic troubles in the ‘80s, mirroring 2010’s Depression. It all makes for quite a rousing finish, converting this previously casual fan into a true believer and making for one of the best double bills that Stubbs has seen all season.