Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Henry Clay People Record Release Extravaganza

Friday night (October 3, 2008) will rank among the most exciting nights of music for most everyone who was at Spaceland to see some of L.A.'s finest bands deliver career making sets. The excitement was a physical sensation. It was the simultaneous release of all those happiness endorphins into the crowd's collective brains that made it seem like we were all on the Spaceland Starship headed for some distant galaxy.

I could tell something was different the minute I walked in. I've been to Spaceland close to 50 times in the past three years, but I don't think I've ever seen anything like this. There was a buzz in the air and everyone seemed to be aware of it.

Le Switch were already playing and a bunch of fans were scattered across the floor, all bobbing heads. I haven't seen this band in a while and that's my misfortune. They play a woozy kind of southern rock and roll with a little tin pan alley thrown in. I was immediately struck by the extraordinary musicianship of all band members. Of course the basics of Aaron Kyle's guitar and Christopher Harrison's bass lead the way, but Maria DeLuca's great trumpet and classical viola and Josh Charney's flowing keyboard work make the band's sound really stand out. When you add Joe Napolitano and his phenomenal percussion you have a band with an enormous sound and surprising range.

Aaron sings, in a pinched and edgy style, the straightforward unpretentious lyrics that propel each song forward. Additional vocals by Maria and Joe add beautiful layers of harmony. I couldn't get over the range of their music.

I don't own any of their recordings and I need them.

The place got packed and sold out early on. It was like people were so excited about Saturday's Eagle Rock Music Festival and L.A. Weekly Detour Festival they wanted the festivities to start early, so they made tonight a warm up. This record release party for The Henry Clay People was presented by Web In Front and Indie103.1. Speaking to Travis part way through the evening I could see he was both shocked and delighted at the turn out. And not just the number of people but it was make up of the crowd; band members, fans, friends, writers and photographers, all supporting this amazing community. Travis should be justifiably proud today.

The Parson Red Heads were on next and they played a set, the likes of which I had never seen them play before. They came across right from the start of their first song, "Time is Running Out" and they knocked song after song right out of the park. The singing sounded stronger and more forceful than I remember and the playing hard and aggressive but never sacrificing their joyous jangle pop that could seduce a slab of steel.

They performed as a band of seven (I think it was seven) with Evan, Sam, Erin and Brett weaving their voices in and out of each others to achieve that harmonic purity. And I just love it when they go off on their instrumental journeys, sometimes finding a melodic hook I could follow for an hour if they chose to play that long. This band is so ready for prime time!

They played a bunch of my favorites including "Got It All", "Out To Sea" and ended with the best version of "State Lines" I've heard them do. The crowd was with them every step of the way and cheered deafeningly after every song. And this was probably just a warm up for their Eagle Rock Music Festival set.

At this point you couldn't turn around without running into somebody you knew, and the place was swarming like an ant hill. The Parson Red Heads left everyone in a state of elation, but little did we know what was to come.

The Henry Clay People took the stage amid the clamor of a totally energized audience of fans and friends. Their fans are not just fans but devotees and advocates. People rave about this band and now I know why. They play a classic brand of rock and roll, but I don't want to make it sound old fashioned, because it's not. It's completely contemporary.

Andy Siara leads his band of merry pranksters through the hallowed halls of rock and roll history. Their influences seem to range from '50's bop bands through 21st century indie and include everything in between. They sang songs from the new CD, For Cheap or For Free, which is great, and older material their fans are more familiar with than I was.

Mid way through the set guest artist began to invade the stage and the whole venue took on the character of a very special party. Members of Le Switch and The Parson Red Heads added their talents for a few songs and by the time they came to the cover of "The Weight" I counted no less than 17 performers on stage.

The band, their guests, the audience were all at the same level of excitement when they finished and everyone was wrung out from maintaining so much joy for so long a period. It was really something special to see and to be a part of. I don't know when I've had a better time.

The last band was Downtown/Union, who I simply couldn't focus enough attention on to assess properly. They sounded very good, actually. Nice singing and drum work from a combo of musicians, but it wasn't fair after three of the best sets three of L.A.'s best bands ever played.

I was so elated it was difficult to come down after that. But it was a fitting opportunity for me to say 'so long' for a couple of weeks to a lot of people who will be in my thoughts all the while I'm in Boston.


P.S. I'm going to try to post a few reviews while I'm back east for Swell Season and Iron and Wine tonight at the Greek. Pinback at the Paradise in Boston, and Fleet Foxes at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, Mass.

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