When I first heard that the backbeat revivalist sounds of JD McPherson would be on display at a sold out Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn, I expected to see a crowd full of men in stiff navy denim with jet black pomade laden dos. I imagined the women might be sporting Italian cuts or brushed-under bobs with high-waisted swing skirts. After all, McPherson’s got that rockabilly 50’s R&B sound down pat on his two albums to date. Well, the crowd wasn’t quite what I imagined as it was full of whatever the hell passes for modern chic in Brooklyn these days. But I guess that makes sense because when you hear the licks rolling off his guitar live, you know you’ve met that sweet spot that is just as much modern day as it is retro.
McPherson and his four piece backing band definitely look and sound the part of time travellers who hitched a ride with Marty McFly after seeing him rip off Chuck Berry at the ‘Enchantment Under the Sea’ dance’. They come at you, complete with Elvis-esque hip thrusts and side steps, furious Jerry Lee Lewis keys, Bo Diddly beats, and more. But if it were just about sounding like an anachronism, it would be an ultimately unfulfilling experience: heard it before and cue the yawns. But McPherson is much more than just that. He incorporates fuzzy grunge chords and even some shout outs to metal vibes – definitely more so in his live gigs than his studio albums. This isn’t someone who just repeats the past, this is a rock and roll historian at work fusing that old 50s DNA with modern sensibilities.
McPherson deftly plays to the crowd, getting right up in their faces. Even enlisting their help when a guitar strap breaks. The set was rife with crowd pleasers like “Let The Good Times Roll,” which could be the theme of any McPherson concert, and “Head Over Heels.” Playing his part of rock chronologist, McPherson gave a shout out to one America’s most underappreciated (In my opinion at least) pioneering rock outfits, The Sonics, with his blistering cover of “Have Love Will Travel.” I mean, what else would you expect from a former teacher who told Rolling Stone that he got fired for giving 15-year-olds Bad Brains records to listen to? That is teacher of the year material right there folks. No seriously, I’m 100 percent behind that!
And his backing band has the looks and chops to fill out this old school/modern era mad scientist experiment sound. It’s hard to take your eyes of Jimmy Sutton as he slaps his upright bass around or keep track of how easily Doug Corcoran handles duties on the sax and guitar. Speaking of guitars, McPherson’s custom Smith ax is a beauty. One sound that really brings the past to life, is Ray Jacildo’s keyboards. As I mentioned earlier, the man sounds like a second coming of the killer, only with less feet on the ivory. And as McPherson told the crowd, one of the first things he learned about rock ‘n’ roll is the beat. And there are no worries about the backbeats with Jason Smay brushing the cymbals and effortlessly handling the skins.
If you want to see what it means to understand how the past can serve the future, look no further than J.D. McPherson. This former teacher will keep taking crowds to school.
Article: Omar Kasrawi