Will Johnson; May 13, 2011; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music
My favorite Centro-matic record is Love You Just the Same, perhaps the most up-tempo record released by the often introspective band. And my favorite song off that record is the buzzing rocker “Spiraling Sideways.” I’d asked Will Johnson a few days in advance of his unplugged house concert if he could play it. He said he’d never played it solo acoustic before, but if he had a chance to work it out before Madison he would do it. It didn’t make the set, so I am guessing he couldn’t make it work. But that was OK, because while “Spiraling” may be my favorite, “Flashes and Cables” was the song that had been stuck in my head for the last week, and that one he played. There’s something very satisfying about hearing those few lines that had been the soundtrack to everything I’d done for the last several days played live in my basement.
Only a few artists have taken the unplugged route in the basement. My very first official house concert was Tim Easton, and while he played unplugged that was before it even occurred to me that I could do it any other way. Robbie Fulks also passed on the PA, but if you have ever seen Fulks you know he doesn’t need any amplification. When Johnson and Anders Parker passed through last spring on their house show tour I was surprised that Parker was doing a tour that way, after all his skilled guitar looping has always been one of my favorite parts of seeing him. His gorgeous voice and acoustic guitar work more than made up for it. Johnson was the biggest surprise. I’d always thought of him as being quiet, but he had no problem projecting in the basement.
His songs have always told stories, and the ones off his new EP Little Raider are no exception, but the stories he tells between songs may be just as entertaining. The best of these was about his time in Bastrop TX where he lived for several years before moving back to Austin. While researching his new home he found that there were several famous residents of the tiny town, but the one that he was most excited about meeting was the professional wrestler the Undertaker. While he never did manage to spot him he kept hearing about his appearances around town. The most intriguing of these was finding out that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had stayed with the imposing figure while on a film shoot. “I would have loved to have been there while they were having dinner,” he mused, “I can only imagine what they would talk about.”
Johnson admitted later he was tempted to use the PA since it was already there, but he wants to keep these house concerts all the same, unamplified and simple. In fact, they are so simple that he says they just might become an annual thing. I think that is a grand idea.