Tramps Like Us

October 18th, 2010

The Henry Clay People – Mercury Lounge – October 16, 2010

(Photo: Jeff Koga)

(Photo: Jeff Koga)

The Henry Clay People’s lead singer, Joey Siara, yelled to the back of a packed Mercury Lounge, “Hey, anybody from the Dig got a guitar amp? This one is not really working.” The Dig, show-opener and New York City’s own attempt at throw-back rock, didn’t respond promptly enough, so Siara switched guitars while his keyboardist bought time with iconic and immediately recognizable Springsteen chord progressions. Equipment now sorted, the frontman earnestly indicated that because of the delay the band would take requests. Someone yelled back, “Born in the USA!” Siara responded yes, they would close with it, absolutely. It was a revealing moment from a band so intensely unpretentious—it would have seemed fake if it hadn’t been so true.

The group relied on material from 2010 release Somewhere on the Golden Coast, a name that must be a simultaneous reference to their West Coast roots and their desire to get lost in the wilderness of rock and roll. With tautological and instantly memorable lyrics like “You can’t fake the fireworks/ Do you remember how your fire works?” and “This ain’t a scene/ It’s just a place to be” delivered with barked laissez-faire attitude, the band aims for a bit of unremembered nostalgia from when rock was simple and people played guitars.

In the spirit of this simplicity and eruption, the Henry Clay People closed with “Working Part Time,” featuring the battle-ready anti-anthem lyric: “We were working part time all the time.” Then Siara sort of kept his promise, looking at the audience and saying, “Rock and roll wasn’t meant to be clean. Rock and roll was meant to be fucked and dirty.” This explanation for how rough the closing cover of “Born to Run” would be was unnecessary and it made clear that he had misheard the request anyhow. But it was fucked and dirty and brilliant. In the middle, Siara slowed the band to a stop and asked a friend who had been making out with a woman in the front row to “count us in.” He counted to four and the Henry Clay People exploded. —Geoff Nelson