Even though I had never met him before, I recognized The Henry Clay People frontman Joey Siara’s mop of curly hair and round glasses immediately upon entering the Brooklyn Bowl. After making sure we both knew who the other person was, he gave me a hug and said apologetically, “I didn’t expect this place to be so big.” It was true that the Williamsburg bowling alley/restaurant/bar/concert venue looked intimidatingly capacious with only a small crowd gathered for opening band Writer, whom Siara and the rest of his band mates knew from San Diego. By the time Henry Clay People hit the stage, the crowd still resembled more of a wedding or a house party than your average concert, but Siara made the most of this intimate setup by climbing offstage to trade glasses with someone, finish a friend’s beer (“I owe you one”), sing “Happy Birthday” to yet another friend, and ensnare both this reporter and his brother, guitarist and vocalist Andy, with his microphone cord.
Like Henry Clay People’s Siara siblings, Brooklyn-based duo Writer consists of brothers Andy and James Ralph. After playing with other musicians, the Ralphs decided they made enough noise with just the two of them. With matching nautical tattoos on their left forearms, James drummed while Andy alternated between a synthesizer and electric guitar, appearing at times to loop pre-recorded riffs while twiddling his knobs. Both often had at least one tambourine on-hand. While it was impressive how fleshed-out they sounded with just percussive elements, Writer sounded strongest when Andy incorporated real live guitar, as on folk-based cuts like “Family Dinner” off last April’s 7-inch of the same name. If they, like Siara, were also all too aware of the small crowd, they didn’t play like it: James smashed his tambourine/hi-hat contraption so hard I feared it would break, and Andy seriously howled through Spencer Krug-like synth lines that belied the endearing, almost childlike holes in his sneakers.
Before The Henry Clay People took the stage, Siara had taken the time to introduce me to some of his friends and acquaintances in the audience. As on anthemic call-to-arms like “Hide” and “Working Part Time”, he seems determined to bring people together, and HCP brought out everyone they knew in New York and even California. They asked someone in the audience– whom I later found out grew up next to them in Los Angeles– to count off one of their songs, and Siara shouted out to an old keyboardist, Jordan, promising he could play his guitar if he got on stage (he didn’t).
It reminded me of something Siara said when I interviewed him about Twenty-Five for the Rest of Our Lives a few months ago: He originally started the band as a way to socialize outside of his day job, and from the songs they chose to play — “Friends Are Forgiving”, “Andy Sings!” (“My brother’s a pain in my asshole, but I love him dearly”) — and the enthusiastic stage banter often drowned in the next song’s opening shreds, it was clear that Siara’s friends and family are still his music’s raison d’etre. And if that afterschool special got to be too much, he’d say something like, “On this tour, everyone has eaten shit except for me.” Andy, of course, fell twice.
Henry Clay People Setlist:
Twenty-five For the Rest of Our Lives
Friends Are Forgiving
Those Who Knew Better
Backseat Of A Cab
Something In the Water
Two By Two
Honey Loving Cells
Working Part Time
Keep Our Weekends Free