It’s a delight to see Will Johnson’s living room shows turning into an annual event. This was his third consecutive spring visit to the House of Righteous Music, and it’s hard to imagine anyone who embraces the living room concert esthetic more enthusiastically. For his visits Johnson has eschewed the PA, preferring to sing and play unamplified. This setting is much different than his day job with Centro-matic where he usually plays electric guitar with a full band behind him. In fact, it is so different that there are songs he has no idea how to convert from one to the other. It happened when I asked for “Spiraling Sideways” last year, and to another guest’s request this year.
While most of what he plays on these tours is songs from his solo releases, like the gently powerful title track from the Little Raider EP, all Centro-matic songs aren’t automatically off the table. In fact, tonight we got a significant taste of what is slated for their next record, as well as a few selections from last year’s excellent Candidate Waltz. The best of these though was “Flashes and Cables” from what remains my favorite record of theirs, Love You Just the Same (though Waltz is a good second). The haunting song had been the high point of last year’s show, and may have succeeded again as part of a two song encore.
His most recent release found him heading in yet another direction. On New Multitudes he, along with Son Volt’s Jay Farrar, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and frequent KHoRM visitor Anders Parker, took the lyrics of Woody Guthrie and wrote their own music. Johnson just may have stolen that show with his “Chorine My Sheba Queen.” Tonight he chose one of his other excellent contributions, “V.D. City,” introducing it as the only song of the night about venereal disease, to which I had to point out that the night was still young. It’s a surprisingly catchy song, despite its stinging indictment of an amoral lifestyle. To wit, “Must you pay your way to this city with an hour of passion’s desire? I pray that I’ll not see your face here where the millions now burn in flames.”
Last year I hadn’t thought to get an opener until it was too late. This time I didn’t wait till the last minute, and I knew exactly who I wanted. Evan Murdock used to be half of the Kentucky Waterfalls, a much-loved local band, but I have to say I prefer him solo. I figured he would be a good choice to play an unplugged set of his own. Murdock currently plays with a band, but since Johnson was playing solo he only brought his accordion player along. He’s somewhat new to the accordion, as he freely admits, and there were few obvious wrong notes. Those were all forgiven when he compared the instrument to a crabby baby… a heavy, crabby baby. Murdock’s collection of tearjerkers was a good match. I’m already looking forward to next year.