…for me, anyway.
Johnny and Mike opened for Head Band at the Lot 10 We Are Seneca Lake benefit Dec. 28th. It was guitar redux for Mike, which is one reason I declare this the true beginning of the tour. Johnny began by playing solo, which for me is the wildest ride of all.
Sometimes it’s like he standing there naked and maybe the audience hasn’t noticed. Sometimes you are sitting down together in the living room, the AC on high, drinking whiskey from an ice tea glass. And sometimes he just leaves you in the lake and paddles away.
He introduced the set by greeting family in the audience, saying,” You know, when I first started out early in my career, I kinda hated to see the audience full of no one but my family. I had more in mind like JZ or… But now, if I had my way, I’d just play for nobody but people I’m related to.”
The first tune was a surprisingly gentle ballad, perhaps called I Love You. Delicately expressed and played, it set an intimate tone. Of course, the second song, off the the new album, was called Dear John Letter. Seems things never quite work out for the protagonists of Johnny’s songs… This he also played solo, but emotionally a bit more distantly than the first.
Next came First There was A Funeral, a classic from Wrong Side of Memphis, again solo. It’s perhaps one of John’s most haunting tunes, with it’s understated chorus of “Hung me in the courtyard, and left me hangin’ for a while” speaking to more unfortunate situations than literally described.
Nasty Mouth, from the new album That’s Your Wife, started out with strong and ominous guitar licks and fiercely delivered vocals, but Johnny seemed to lose track of himself towards the end. Perhaps it was the guitar.
The final solo tune was Drip Drop, in which Johnny bemoans the passing of youth, fame or both. Both melancholy and self mocking, the chorus hook declares, “You know I’m talking ’bout the rain, and if I don’t get wet, you know I’ve had my fun”.
Mike joined John onstage for Cadillac Hearse, a rocking tune reminiscent of Neon Baptist days, complete with Peter Gunn riff. (And yeah, I go that far back). Apparently not satisfied with the way the tune was going, Johnny crashed it and began an entirely different song-A Man Loves His Wife.
They hit their stride with a tune from That’s Your Wife called Empty Purse. Dark all the way through, Johnny cheats a little on the lyrics here. I mean, we already KNOW clowns are scary. No cheating on the guitar playing, though. Tight and to the point, with a sound that deserves to be in a movie soundtrack. A slasher movie, of course.
The next song, Why Why Why was dedicated to his life partner (and ace photographer) Kat Dalton. Only, he adds, because it mentions both California and France. This remains my favorite from That’s Your Wife, even without Anna Coogan‘s vocals. Maybe it’s the lyrics (“Fair is where you go, if you want to see a pig race”) or the catchy tune (this is the hit single, if there was such a thing any more). More likely, it’s the complete package.
As the song wound down, Johnny performed one of the conjuring tricks typical of his live act, and called Dr. Ben on stage for some unrehearsed guitar stylings. He picked up where Mike left off rhythmically while John played a freezing cool solo, then stepped into an opening with some classic rock riffs of his own.
As a finale, Mike returned to the stage along with the Fabulous Willie B. for a drum loaded rendition of White Dolomite. Gotta say I missed Anna on this. I think I can safely say she truly rocks the Hot Pants chorus.
All in all, the way John and Mike mesh on guitar, John’s relaxed spontaneity on stage, and the songs themselves bode well for the coming tour. It’s gonna be amazing.
Thanks for the music, Johnny. Tonight, we were all people you are related to.
– by Jif