Monday, January 30, 2012

Johnny Ill Band at Moon II • 1-27-12

Got a chance to catch Detroits, The Johnny Ill band at Moon II over on the Hasidic side of south Brooklyn Friday night, and ended up meeting one of the guys outside who helped to build out the raw space not more than 6 months ago. They've got a Silent Barn type space over there with a balcony and your choice of PBR or glasses of champagne....really keeping it classy.

When Johnny goes on tour, they have a lot of people and equipment to think about - the multiple levels of keyboard, two guitars and bass, and thank god for Paul's somewhat minimal drum kit because all of this already can't fit into one van. This has to be laid back bunch just getting off on playing these straightforward psych-pop observations, or they would have imploded miles and miles ago. It's also surprising that the deceptively minimal sound of "In the Wintertime", came out of this big band combination. They're really paying attention to the details, which don't ever overwhelm the songs, especially the two tiers of organ which Pete uses sparingly and keeps this well out of the usual raw garage sound which they otherwise are successfully going for.

I think Johnny's not trying to sell the performance, or this post-garage minimal feel....this isn't a crafted persona...and I mean that in great way. Like Wounded Lion, Johnny Ill Band is that combination of the mundane bits of life while turning it into a good time sounding party. They aren't afraid to possibly sound ridiculous and at the same time make this track about the future something you want to hear more than once. It's not as easy as it sounds to carry a song about living in the garage or hating the wintertime as obvious as these songs are. This is a sort of a reinterpretation of the slacker aesthetic in the '90s and, although this might sound like that on first listen, Johnny really cares about these mundane observations. It's not with a punk attitude when he's talking about posture, you should really try to do something about it.
This storytelling style delivery of Johnny is at it's best on "Used to be Confused" combining a solid bassline, thumping along kick beat, and stabs on the organ. Johnny is straightforward laying the lyric down, not too emotional, when he raises his voice on the end of a verse it's just to fake the enthusiasm. Let's not get carried away.

Their recordings are almost documenting the compulsion to create, and thank god Johnny is talented, and trying to temper some of this smarty pants instrumentation with an barely emotional vocal about his washing machine. When he sings about it being stolen because of where he lives, it's not with any kind of hatred, he isn't railing against injustice when he says he has to hide his things, it's just the way it is.
In winter, you can't play baseball, it's a fact.
It's done with this kind of naive openness, not the way some friends on facebook overshare their daily details, but in the way that he's really got a compelling personality that isn't trying to glamorize's almost a challenge for The Johnny Ill Band to see if they can pull this off musically. Matt and Cree have to come up with a little extra, the single note solo and the bassline hook is going to be brutal, just as raw as humanly possible. Pete on organ isn't going to ever overplay his hand, almost winding up into a windmill with the time he's got in between chords, a perfect compliment to these concrete personal details.

Johnny was nice enough to have copies of their amazing full length, Ask All the Doctors on Urinal Cake Records which I have been listening to nonstop, plus a couple of singles on Kaboodle Records and Italy Records. They've been flying under the radar for far too long for me and I got a chance to see Matt Larson from the B-Side in person and that was exciting.

They're currently on their way back to Detroit after wrapping up this mini-tour and I hope that the washing machine is fixed or at least not stolen because they've got some major laundry to do.

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