Will Johnson/Anders Parker; April 18, 2010; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music
The last couple times I had run into Centro-matic’s Will Johnson (opening for and playing with the Drive By Truckers’ Patterson Hood and, surprisingly, playing drums with the Monsters of Folk) I told him he should come play a house concert. Centro-matic has always done well in Madison so I didn’t really expect him to ever take me up on it. It was a bit of a surprise when Anders, a frequent house concert performer, said he was heading out on tour again, this time with Will Johnson, and they were playing a series of living rooms. Just like Windows 7, I’d like to think this whole tour was my idea.
I figured this show would sell itself, because as I mentioned, Centro-matic has always done quite well in Madison. Even so, I followed my usual protocol, sent out a couple e-mails to my list, postered on State St, and watched as the number of tickets available according to Undertow’s website went from 35… down to 27. I can’t really explain why, perhaps it was the ticket price- while $20 is totally worth it; it’s also more than I’ve charged for any of my shows. The second was their ticketing policy which required people buy their tickets (donation) in advance from Undertow. A great idea for folks who have never hosted a house concert, but it seemed unnecessary for more experienced hosts like me. Still, I didn’t question it; the website seemed quite clear on this point. In retrospect, I probably should have since it did seem to frighten some people away. Anders had expected me to do the ticketing my way, and apologized profusely for not making that clear.
I wouldn’t have guessed this was the smallest crowd that the guys had played for on this tour, they were still just as charming and gregarious as if the room was full of people. They’d been doing this tour unamplified, playing about an hour each. I offered them the PA, but they went without. Will went first, and started his set with a monologue on the essential oddness of what they were doing. Just before he left on tour a friend asked him if he was worried about “that guy” who was going to buy up all the tickets and then demand the hits, though it sounded a little more Deliverance in his telling. He smiled when he said it, and thanked us for “not being that guy.” Johnson has a gorgeous voice, but it had never struck me as being particularly strong, and I wondered how he would fair without amplification. With his wealth of material, under his own name and with Centro-matic and South San Gabriel, he had an extensive catalog of songs to choose from. It isn’t surprising I only knew one song, the title track to the Flashes and Cables EP, but it all sounded terrific.
Anders has always impressed me with the way he plays his electric like an acoustic and his looping skills. Going without power, I wasn’t sure they would have the same magic. But they did as he played them the simple, old-fashioned way, just strumming and singing. In the weeks since Alex Chilton’s unexpected death there has been tribute after tribute to the man whose contribution to music hadn’t really been appreciated until recently. Anders took a different route, playing the song of his that he felt conveyed the magic of Chilton’s music. “Song” is a tune that gets stuck in your head, and that’s exactly what it is about. “Song that song, the one where everyone sings along.” Brilliant. It’s worth noting that The Replacements “Alex Chilton” is about that very same thing (“I’m in love, with that song.”). In his fourth appearance in the basement (moving him into a tie with Jon Dee Graham), he again marveled at the fact that Michelle (his biggest fan in the audience) hates singer songwriters, and emphasized that he intends to mention it every time. “The thing is,” he claimed, “I don’t think of myself as a singer-songwriter, there’s a whole band in my head.” He paused, smiling, “and they are really rocking tonight.”
To end the night they played a pair of songs together. Their voices didn’t actually mesh a well as I would have thought, but it was more the idea of it that I liked. Sure, it was disappointing that not more people came, but knowing that they both had a great time, and that they will both be back, took away the sting. Yet another great show in the basement.
Anders & Will