I became a fan of JD McPherson after hearing an NPR segment on his debut album, Signs and Signifiers, a few years back. The high point of the segment was this track “Wolf Teeth,” this Tom Waits/Howling Wolf vocal set to rockabilly riffs. I loved it. It wasn’t indicative of the rest of the album, which was even better, an amalgamation of rockabilly, ’50s country and garage rock, kind of like Little Richard singing Buddy Holly tunes.
It was about three years from that album’s release to this year’s Let the Good Times Roll. In the meantime, I’ve worn Signs and Signifiers out. It’s probably my favorite album of the decade and one of my top three albums ever made. From start-to-finish, I enjoy every track. It sounds the way music should. Let the Good Times Roll eschews some of the laid-back country sounds in favor of a tighter, focused sound. It’s similarly a sonic throwback without being deliberately anachronistic for the sake of commercial attention, more the sound of someone making music he likes and not something he thinks will sell a shit-ton of records. It’s awesome, will probably end up ranking quite high on my ‘Best of 2015’ rankings and is regularly played in the Shahen homestead, but it just hasn’t had the time to become etched into my consciousness the way his first album has.
McPherson came to the Capital Region last year, but my wife and I were on the cusp of having a kid and didn’t even know the concert happened until well after the fact. As things would have it, his 2015 summer tour made a stop in Troy, NY at the Hangar and to use a trite phrase, there was no way we were going to miss it.
When I go to a concert, I don’t get off on crushing booze and drunkenly lurching my way through a show. I get off on the music, the performance, the moment. Sometimes the moment is like seeing Springsteen, the Stones or KISS and you feel like you’re part of something larger than yourself. Other times it’s you’re having so much fucking fun you don’t even think about how much you’re enjoying yourself. JD’s performance was decidedly in the latter. I was so into it, so entertained that I can only think of the eminently danceable soul explosion of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings as comparable in terms of sheer enjoyment.
The venue was great. The Hangar is essentially an oversized garage that holds like 100 people, with a tiny little stage barely large enough to hold the band and its gear, and decor to match the garage vibe. As much as I had initially hoped for JD to come to a larger, more comfortable venue, it was really the perfect place in terms of aesthetics. It was hot inside the Hangar and by the time he was done, I was soaked with sweat, from the heat in the building and from singing, bouncing and dancing so goddamn much during his 90-minute performance.
I don’t want to make stupid equivalencies and say it was an experience up there with hypothetically seeing the Ramones at CBGB’s or Jeff Buckley at Sin-E, because in the grand scheme of things JD’s legacy and import will never be on par with those type of acts. It was just a really fun performance that validated my fandom and reaffirmed everything why I love listening to music so much.
The ballads like “Precious” were soulful. The rockers like “Everybody’s Talkin’ ‘Bout the All-American” ripped, infused with a punk -like energy and pummeling four-on-the-floor drums. The Sun Records-swing of “Firebug” and “It Shook Me Up” had me and my wife singing and dancing like pockets of other fans in attendance. My enthusiasm, unflagging all night, paled in comparison to that of McPherson and his band. They were tight, focused and clearly having as much fun rocking out together as the audience had seeing and hearing them.
Normally at a concert I’m wondering what the band is going to play next, how long the set is going to be (not in a ‘this is boring’ kind of way, but just generally curious) and if I’m going to be satisfied with the whole thing. Three days later, I could recite the entire set and if I was forced to, throw in one or two songs I wish he had played, but that’s just me being a super-fan. But that night I wasn’t concerned with any of that sort of critical, self-conscious nitpicking that rightfully drives most normal people insane.
Instead, all I can do is talk about how fucking great JD McPherson is and was. The bumper sticker and t-shirt you can buy on his website can sum it up much more succinctly: I like JD.
You should too.