Tuesday, November 21, 2017

GURNETT: JD McPherson blows away packed house at the Tralf

All WNY Radio     Tuesday, November 21, 2017    


I hadn’t heard much of JD McPherson before his performance on Saturday, November 11th at The Tralf. The Tulsa, Oklahoma-born singer/songwriter/guitarist had managed to fly under my radar, despite a diverse set of influences spanning from Little Richard and Fats Domino to The Pixies and Wu-Tang Clan. I wasn’t really sure what to expect with a mix like that. I was happy to find that he and his amazing backing band blew me (and the rest of the packed house) away. It was a fun night of music and dancing I won’t soon forget.

Dylan Pratt opened up the evening. The Arizona-based singer/songwriter, who performed solo, has a beautiful voice that simply can’t be ignored, channeling influences like Paul Simon, Rufus Wainwright and early Radiohead. Artists playing by themselves can feel a little lost in a big space. But Pratt’s guitar carried through the room, and his robust tenor captured the attention of everyone in the audience. His songs were full of catchy hooks and soaring choruses, and he hit every note perfectly. His guitar sounded equally fantastic, whether he was fingerpicking folky/indie tunes on his acoustic or moving to his for a more experimental sound. Pratt did a great job warming up the crowd for McPherson.

Then JD McPherson and his band took the stage. Trying to describe McPherson in just a genre or two is next to impossible. My best attempt would be to say he sounds like classic rock and roll with a modern spin. The first song started off with a country/folksy, Violent Femmes vibe, but I also heard bits and pieces of rockabilly, surf, new wave, ska, 60’s pop and classic metal -- usually with multiple genres coexisting at once. A song might start as a surf track, then take a detour through early Beatles brit-pop, then swing over to a Black Sabbath-esque metal bridge.

The crowd was completely engaged the moment McPherson stepped foot on stage. Within minutes, everyone in the Tralf was clapping and dancing along. The atmosphere was electric. The band played favorites like the 60’s skiffle-influenced “Desperate Love,” “Crying’s Just a Thing You Do” (a mixture of surf rock and blues with a huge metal bridge), and surf-rocker “Under the Spell of City Lights.” The choruses were downright anthemic and had everyone in the crowd singing along.

McPherson’s voice falls somewhere between Buddy Holly and Adam Levine. It’s a classic sound that calls to mind the music at high school dance in the 60’s. McPherson is a showman and interacted with the hyped-up crowd all night. He and second guitarist/saxophonist Doug Corcoran delivered intricate leads and perfect solos. Jimmy Sutton’s string bass laid a beautiful warm tone under the band. He also supplied the sweet slap-bass and percussive elements you can only get using this very versatile instrument. He demonstrated the beauty of not overplaying, knowing when to get a little crazy and know when to ease off. Jason Smay’s drums were thunderous, precise and dynamic, and he kept pace perfectly with mid-song genre changes.

When I review a concert, I usually leave a little room on my pad of paper for bands the performer I’m reviewing sounds like. For McPherson and company, my list was all over the place: Violent Femmes, Black Sabbath, Chuck Berry, Reverend Horton Heat, Brian Setzer, Beach Boys, Beatles, The Talking Heads, The Specials, Dick Dale, The Black Keys. That might sound overwhelming, but the result was actually delightful. If you like classic rock and roll, if you like a concert that feels like a big party, and if you like exciting, unpredictable music that demands your attention, you should definitely check out JD McPherson and his brilliant band the next time they come to town.


Ryan Gurnett has a B.S. in Music Industry from The College of St Rose. He has worked as a studio engineer, live sound engineer, producer and sound editor and has been a musician for 25 years. He is currently the bassist for The Lady, or the Tiger?. Email him at SirWilliamIdol@gmail.com or find him on Twitter @SirWilliamIdol.

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