LIVE: J.D. McPherson @ The Hangar, 8/31/15
Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photographs by Ed Conway
The city of Troy has witnessed some memorable rock and roll shows in the past three years – the Fleshtones, Los Straitjackets, the Lawn Sausages, the Catbirds and the Split Squad certainly come to mind. J.D. McPherson, however, may have raised the bar for indelible rockin’ to one-for-the-ages.
The last time he played Troy, McPherson and his remarkable band packed the Ale House. It was a sure sign that a bigger venue had to be in order.
On a steamy Monday night, a long of ticket-holders made their way into The Hangar – for the uninitiated, it’s a slice of roadhouse heaven just across the street from The Ale House with superb sound no matter where you sit or stand. Rising above a patch of desiccated sunflowers, a giant sign outside proclaimed the show was sold out.
I barely had enough room to clutch a cold beverage, take notes and forget that the beautiful blonde I’d asked out to the show said she couldn’t make it – whatever. (Somehow, mid-show, I would make it up to the stage front; within minutes, a beautiful brunette squirmed through the crowd, danced with me for several songs, and then was gone. Who was she?). It was that kind of night.
The Mickey James Trio opened the show and had the crowd howling approval immediately. Mickey James, the teenage son of McPherson’s powerhouse drummer, Jason Smay, sported a black T.K. Smith t-shirt, confident vocals and astounding chops on guitar. Seriously, this kid’s rhythm and lead style brought to mind such greats as Dave Gonzalez and Eddie Angel. With his dad smiling behind the kit and Graham Tichy playing some mighty fine Danelectro bass, James covered a lot of ground in his 45-minute set: Chan Romero, Howlin’ Wolf, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Link Wray and Freddie King to name a few). Singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins, who had emailed me a few days before, was right: don’t miss this kid.
The crowd was still buzzing with the electric spirit of blues and garage rock when McPherson – touring in support of his superb new album Let the Good Times Roll (Rounder Records) – took the stage 20 minutes later. With Smay laying down a thumping rhumba beat, McPherson strapped on his guitar and sang the heck out of Billy Boy Arnold’s classic “I Wish You Would.” Floorboards were bending from the couple of hundred feet grooving along when Doug Corcoran switched from tenor sax to second guitar for the quick shuffle of “I Can’t Complain,” giving McPherson the opportunity to let loose like Clyde McPhatter and Jackie Wilson. “Firebug” (the song off 2009’s Signs & Signifiers that became a word-of-mouth, file-sharing phenomenon among twenty-somethings with good taste), and “Bossy” (a fine showcase for the upright bassist extraordinaire Jimmy Sutton) had the crowd singing along. “It Shook Me Up,” featuring some concise, percussive piano by Ray Jacildo, sounded like a Little Richard-Eddie Cochran collaboration. It rocked.
The powerhouse songs flowed as effortlessly as beer from the tap. “Abigail Blue,” a very cool shuffle, blazed with tenor sax and organ solos. “Everybody’s Talkin’ About the All-American” (dedicated to the late, great Nick Curran) was so intense that afterwards McPherson joked, “I’m kind of scared to strap on a guitar after that one!” Nick Lowe’s “Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day” got a two-guitar treatment, and the soul-clapping, bass-thumping “Mother of Lies” was master lesson in working a crowd with dynamic shifts in tempo and amplitude. “You Must Have Met Little Caroline?” showcased Jacildo’s deft piano and a trance-like beat before giving way to some primo Wray-styled guitar. A petite redhead near the stage, Colleen, got her birthday wishes answered with the aptly-named “Precious,”, and the crowd got a preview of a terrific new song, “Crazy Horse,” that will be featured on an upcoming cartoon show.
Most bands would be lucky to match the fervor with which McPherson and company played at any point during the evening. Sutton switched over to electric bass for the catchy “Head Over Heels,” an impromptu addition that tapped into the vibe of the room perfectly – the dancing crowd soul-clapping with the percussion fills and singing out the lyrics to McPherson’s delight. “Let the Good Times Roll,” perhaps the best carpe diem song of 2015 – “I drift away/ Underneath auspicious skies/ Let the sky open up, little darlin’/ Follow me when I go” – literally had the floor vibrating. “Northside Gal,” a fan favorite with an unexpected extended introduction for the bass and saxophone, set up the berzerk, Diddleyesque “Wolf Teeth,” cleverly incorporating a snippet of “Who Knows” by Jimi Hendrix’s short-lived Band of Gypsys and featured some killer piano by Jacildo.
Called back for an encore, McPherson delivered an awesome trifecta: Art Neville’s deep soul ballad “I’m a Fool to Care”; the Sonics’ garage rock manifesto “Have Love, Will Travel” (with Mickey James invited up for some nasty guitar riffing); and the frenzied jump-blues of “Scandalous,” driven by Smay’s propulsive drums and McPherson’s terse guitar fills.
What a night!
J.D. McPHERSON SET LIST
I Wish You Would (Billy Boy Arnold)
I Can’t Complain
It Shook Me Up
Everybody’s Talkin’ About the All-American
Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day (Nick Lowe)
Mother of Lies
You Must Have Met Little Caroline?
Head Over Heels
Let the Good Times Roll
I’m Just a Fool to Care (Art Neville)
Have Love, Will Travel (the Sonics)