Don’t think of this as a review. Think of it as a commemoration of an unusual event. A last minute change of plans (thanks to my friend Elizabeth, a benefactor of the arts in the truest sense) found me packed in alongside sweaty drunken college students on Lansdowne Street, at WFNX’s Clambake. Which was something of a misnomer, as no one but the giant lobster knew where the heck the clams were, but with an amazing lineup of bands (especially during the outdoor portion), all is forgiven.
The Henry Clay People
This was probably one of the stranger stops on their nationwide tour with Silversun Pickups and Against Me!. It was a ‘beat the clock’ musical marathon that saw Joey, Andy, Jordan, Jonathan and new drummer Chris trying to pack as many songs from their newly released Somewhere On The Golden Coast into a fascistly adhered to 30-minute set as humanly possible. But The Henry Clay People – seasoned professionals that they are – attacked the task head-on, neatly fitting all those intended but one (I’m guessing one of their trademark rollicking rock ‘n’ roll cover medleys) before the bell was rung.
A few words about ‘Golden Coast’ – it’s brilliant. I intend to do a roundup of the huge pile of new releases from my favorite Eastside L.A. bands this year… soon. [Yes, I meant releases from this year, but the article will be this year as well.] Now on tbd records (home of Autolux, Radiohead, White Rabbits), HCP brought two ‘rock ‘n’ roll anthems’ from their last album – “Working Part Time” and “This Ain’t A Scene,” a song that brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it. Added to that are new instant classics, most notably “The Digital Kid” and “End of an Empire,” and a few slower sentimental ballads… Well, all of their songs I find terribly sweet and sentimental, lyrically a bit wistful and sad though musically celebratory. What seems casual, off-the-cuff and irreverent is anything but.
“if you think there’s peace in growing old, then you’re just repeating what you’ve been told” – Keep Your Eyes Closed
“We had dreams, they were better off dreams, so you kept them away from me
but the time will come, yeah the time will come, and we’ll need them.
This ain’t a scene, it’s just a generation caught in between…”
– This Ain’t A Scene
With a blast of hot energy to match the sweaty summer pavement of Lansdowne Street, their rapid-fire set impressed a lot of people seeing them for the first time. I heard from somewhere behind me “You guys are AWESOME!!” Indeed. They were incredibly tight, yet still radiating their ‘sloppy fun’ vibe… Joey’s warm and inviting vocals, Andy’s ripping lead guitar (damn, he’s good), Jordan’s barroom honky-tonk piano, and a pounding beat courtesy of Jonathan and new drummer Eric (Joey explained that Mike couldn’t make the tour but it had a happy ending because Eric was an old friend who was ‘between jobs’ at the time).
After seriously jamming through several songs from the new album, they ended their way-too-short performance with, to my great delight, “This Ain’t A Scene” and “The Switch Kids,” their tribute to Silverlake band-buddies Le Switch. This turned out to be their final song. In response to enthusiastic shouts from the growing crowd, they asked if they could do one more, and were answered back by the ‘FNX gestapo, “NO”. Bummer. Though rumor has it they’ll be back around in the autumn, presumably for a much longer show (headlining? please?). Stay tuned.
I wasn’t familiar with Against Me!, even though they’ve been around for a decade. They’re gaining wider appeal now being on major label Sire, though not without some detractors amongst their older underground indie fans. Gutsy and powerful driving punk rock that kept the energy high, and definitely crowd favorites. An interesting choice to be on the bill with HCP and Silversun Pickups (they’re currently touring together), but in terms of powerful, heartfelt performance I’d say a good match. Also, first appearance of the ‘rock lobster’ who nearly knocked me down mid-set, though his tenacity must be applauded, full-piece furry suit in humid 90 degrees with no perceivable air flow.
Matt & Kim
Great bouncy indie pop, a fun stage persona, friendly home-town appeal (I guess Kim is from Boston, or has family here?), and of course their famous New York City Times Square strip. Ample demonstration that two people bursting with personality and good music can indeed captivate a large and raucous, partying outdoor crowd.
If you thought their headlining gig at the House of Blues back in April with DeVotchKa was impressive, the unplugged version of their Ukranian wedding/gypsy punk was even more so. Master of ceremonies Eugene Hütz pointed out that the band has their roots in acoustic performance, and I’d have to say I prefer them this way, with the music sharply accentuated to the point where every lick of violin, accordion, acoustic guitar and percussion leapt out and enveloped. The now sun-drenched and sweaty, beer-fueled and increasingly unpredictable audience was surprisingly subdued. I expected a repeat performance from their indoor HOB extravaganza, of rabid moshing and surfing, but that never really materialized, with only a little jostling during crowd favorites “American Wedding,” “Pala Tute,” and “Start Wearing Purple.” But mostly it was a joyous celebration of racial diversity and music that crosses boundaries and spans the ages. Absolutely wonderful, glorious. And though memory is a little hazy nearly two weeks later, I’m pretty certain they performed a personal favorite, the hopeful and life-affirming “Sun Is On My Side.”
It was during the break between Gogol Bordello and Silversun Pickups that things took a turn for the bizarre. Several sun-baked hours of boozy 20-somethings and sweaty sardine-packed conditions on hot asphalt created a surreal, gauzy haze over the proceedings. I was expecting Gogol to be the litmus test of physical endurance as I eyed the merch tables on the side, at any moment prepared to make a quick dive under them. When the expected chaos didn’t happen, defenses were (mistakenly) lowered, so that when Silversun Pickups came out to frenzied hysteria and moshing madness, I was, uh, taken aback. Clearly the band was as well, in my mind perhaps (bleary as it was) eyeing the crowd apprehensively while at the same time basking in the big love. But it wasn’t just a horde of delirious drunks – it was a horde of deliriously drunken SSPU fans who sang along to every tune in joyous abandon.
A few songs in, the craziness began. Ok, so SSPU are pretty hard-driving, and they can certainly get some serious feedback-laden, sprawling and heavy guitar-driven deep-space madness going on… but seriously, a mosh band? Really? And yet here we were, the front half of the street in front of the stage one giant mosh pit. Fortunately I found myself at the side of the stage; otherwise I would have been kicked in the head repeatedly as body after body went gliding overhead. The band, bemused, soldiered on, feeding the frenzy and being fed by it, creating one of most powerful musical experiences in recent memory. Their entire set was astonishing, but “Well Thought Out Twinkles” stands out in my mind as being especially hallucinatory. If you weren’t there, you’ll just have to take my word for it – something happened during that song. Good lord, what an amazing band. Their blockbuster success this year, propelled by their wonderful album Swoon – and of course helped by their Grammy nod – is well deserved.
Near the end of their set, Brian addressed the crowd, noting that (paraphrasing here) “usually with a crowd like this, there can be a lot of douchbags. I’m glad to see it’s douchbag free.” When they returned for an encore, a pack of especially inebriated frat boys took up the increasingly annoying chant of “DOUCHBAG FREE!! DOUCHBAG FREE!!,” which I found… ironic.
To relive the experience or see what you missed, The Boston Phoenix has several videos up, and an interview with the band.
Thanks so much, guys. Come back soon!