It’s Friday night at Stubb’s and all I can hear is the loud man behind me, with his heavy Texan drawl, talking to a couple of British tourists about his son’s band. He goes on and on about how good they are, how great his son is and, as I turn to peek at him, I see his white Drive-By Truckers t-shirt. The man, I would imagine, is in his late 40s. About 15 minutes into his conversation with the tourists, I’ve learned he taught high school for more than 20 years and that he’s lived in Jersey and Dallas. I know his son’s band has played in “some real famous place over there in England” and that he’s never seen The Henry Clay People but he thinks they’ll probably be good, although Drive-By is “the shit.” Welcome to the Live Music Capital of the World.
|The Henry Clay People|
It was clear listening to old Proud Papa over there that music has no age. Even though you could tell from the (somewhat) older crowd’s reactions that they weren’t familiar with The Henry Clay People, they were instantly charmed by the Los Angeles-based band’s frontman, who admitted they “have a crush on our city” and remained completely interactive with the crowd all throughout their set.
The band played a lot tighter and cleaner than one would imagine after listening to their work. Their talent shone on stage, and what was especially striking to witness live was their wide variety of influence—everything from ’50s rock on the keyboard to more modern indie rock in the singer’s heavy, drugged-like voice. The energy they brought about the audience was fantastic to watch, and the chemistry the brothers and long-time friends shared onstage was magnetic and even enviable, if anything because they looked like guys who were just having a great time. They included songs from their last album Somewhere On The Golden Coast, but ended the set with—I think this was the most surprising thing of all—a cover of “Born To Run,” in honor of The Boss’ birthday. Henry Clay definitely had spark and so the audience was buzzin’ by the end of their set.
Drive-By Truckers began and the audience suddenly transformed, like the South rising for everything Drive-By represents. In their elaborate stories of Cadillacs and Bear Bryant, tales of “Two Daughters And A Beautiful Wife,” it was clear Drive-By Truckers is a beloved band. The country bluesy rock ‘n’ roll has never been my thing, but there’s a certain charm in the way cohorts are formed in things like these—people who come together for their love of something, and with Drive-By it wasn’t only coming together for fun music, but for every time they’ve thought what the band was singing about, like complaining about some bitch job or not being able to find your keys when you’ve been drinking.
It’s always fun to watch people fist pump. And man, there were a lot of fist pumps tonight, beers rising and men singing—or well, screaming—along to the words they’ve come to know so well. Drive-By’s set, which was over two hours, was a rollercoaster of danceable country rock and sweeter, softer songs, and the crowd was never bored. There was never a moment in which the band didn’t have eager faces staring up, bodies gently squeezed up against the stage. Never having seen them live, it was impressive to watch the band alternating singers, each for a specific style, a certain mood, a different story, like multiple identity characters who’ve all been brought up to sing. After the end of their set the audience begged for an encore, after which the band returned and announced their new record coming out next February, and performed a cover for Eddie Hinton’s “Everybody Needs Love.”
My favorite part of any show isn’t really a certain moment, or a certain pause between songs. It’s the characters that make up the show, like the band members and the people asking you incessantly if you’ve registered to vote (what’s that about, anyway?). And like that dad at the beginning of the show, flaunting his son and his music, I think what’s brilliant about shows in Austin is that they represent a culture that truly lives and breathes live music. Both The Henry Clay People and Drive-By Truckers, like all bands in every city they visit, expressed their excitement for being in Austin—but I really did believe them. They actually know we’ve got something special here, and they know if there’s anywhere to play some music, it’s Austin. And you know, they really did put on a pretty fucking great show.
Drive-By Truckers and Henry Clay People performed at Stubb’s on Sept. 24.