JD McPherson wows at First Avenue, 5/4/13
JD McPherson with the Cactus Blossoms
Photo by Samantha Franklin
First Avenue Mainroom, Minneapolis
May 4, 2013
Forget what you think you know about rock 'n' roll. Until you've seen JD McPherson play, you don't know the genre. McPherson is modern music's unequivocal leader in rock 'n' roll revivalism, and on Saturday night at First Avenue, he proved to all of Minneapolis why that was.
McPherson, dressed in his trademark denim jacket with his hair slicked back just so, burst onto the stage with enough energy to power the lights in the mainroom, and he played his guitar with a furious flourish. The band--also similarly uniformed--opened with the infectious rockabilly-style tune "Firebug," and it was just all uphill from there. With McPherson's music partner and producer, Jimmy Sutton, on upright bass, the band commanded the stage as though it might be their last performance ever.
McPherson has a voice that comes swinging out of nowhere, full of raw, unchecked emotion that he grinds out into blues-rock jams like "Party Line" and "North Side Gal." It's a sound that deliberately recalls '50's-era music, when rock was at its inception, when rhythm and blues meshed with contemporary audiences for the first time. The way McPherson spins it is as unadulterated joy: the sort of thing that has a surprise mass-appeal for people interested in everything from Elvis Presley to punk.
Revivalism is not a new thing to us in the here and now; we need only to look at our current Top 40 artists to recognize the derivatives that artists like Mumford and Sons and Adele represent. What sets McPherson apart in this sub-category of pseudo-vintage artists is that he is an uncompromising purist. For McPherson, there is no "genre-bending" or "crossover." He's a tried-and-true traditionalist, and holy crap, who'd have thought the old times would sound so good today.
Sutton is easily half the show. He wails on that bass, then lifts it and twirls it as delicately as if it were a fine lady. Ten songs in, the Chicago-native Sutton took the lead vocals on "You Don't Love Me," and the audience erupted. He's a charmer, an absolute magnet on stage. With a drummer, a pianist, and a saxophonist rounding out the rest of the band, and with everyone moving as much as possible, it was sometimes hard to keep track of it all.
McPherson seemed thoroughly joyed to be back in Minneapolis, thanking the Current multiple times and giving genuine praise and shout-outs to local opening band the Cactus Blossoms. He didn't make the packed crowd wait too long for his four-song encore, which included his breakthrough "Signs and Signifiers" as well as a cover of "Head On" by the Jesus and Mary Chain. As McPherson stood with his band to take a final bow, a glance at the audience was all it took to understand the success of the night: hundreds of beaming, ecstatic faces, and a couple more, shaking their heads in a amazement.
Personal bias: Liking the music of JD McPherson takes about as much effort as liking whiskey, but I never expected to like him this much. Also: Jesus and Mary Chain cover! Omg.
The crowd: Packed and excited, but in a polite, good old-fashioned "We just wanna listen to the music" kind of way. Age spanning.
Overheard in the crowd: "Is it weird that I find the bassist SUPER attractive?" said some girl next to me. (No. Not weird. Totally appropriate.)
Setlist: Please feel free to fill in the holes in the comments section.
Your Love (Is All That I'm Missing)
A Gentle Awakening
Beautiful Delilah (Chuck Berry cover)
You Don't Love Me
North Side Gal
Signs and Signifiers
Head On (Jesus and Mary Chain cover)
Oil In My Lamp (The Byrds cover)