JD McPherson Embodies the Blues at Alex's Bar

JD McPherson Embodies the Blues at Alex's Bar
Kim Conlan

J.D. McPherson at Alex’s Bar
with HoneyHoney

J.D. McPherson embodies just about everything you look for in a rhythm and blues traditionalist. Back beats and 12-bar blues are his comfort zone, although he has started breaking through the simple construction of his compositions on his newest album Let the Good Times Roll with the help of musician and producer Dan Auerbach. And please, when I say simple, don’t take that too seriously. There is nothing simple about the performance of J.D. McPherson, which elicits some of the most energetic reaction I’ve seen from a crowd. He has the ability to transform a venue like Alex’s Bar into an Oklahoma backwoods speakeasy flowing with liquor, with scratched circles on the floor from the constant moving and sliding of dancing shoes, with a scent of sweet sweat lingering like a faint exhaust in the red glow of light that radiates inside the wide open room holding a sold-out attendance.

Men in the crowd were dressed in the fashion of Paul Bigsby, mostly clad in denim jackets, sculpted slick pomade hairdos, and cuffed Levis. Woman wore A-line skirts or fitted black jeans with 50s updos and versions of Mary Jane’s. As they all waited patiently for McPherson and crew to emerge from the back door and onto stage, the DJ spun tunes from the likes of Link Wray and such, setting the mood for the set about to start. The gear grabs the attention before the show starts, with an organ and rickety standup piano that looks like it could have suffered from a few broken keys in its day tucked in the corner of the stage. Thick strings made for slapping belonging to the stand-up bass wait motionless for its player. A sax, lap-steel, acoustic and electric guitar take the other side, with a simple setup of drums set away in the back.

A door opens and the band enters stage left, making final mic-checks, then greeting an anxious room. McPherson’s first line of vocals makes the crowd stop in their tracks and direct unfettered attention on him. Almost a cross between crooner, rocker, and punker, his ability to control the microphone is effortless yet remarkably strong. He picks hard at the opening track, almost fighting as if in fisticuffs with this own Smith Special guitar. This one-of-a-kind instrument is the creation of Joshua Tree guitarist and guitar smith TK Smith. The ensemble gets a distinct sound from this piece of equipment, which is fashioned with the best traits of 40s and 50s gear, mixed with completely hand-crafted components and a Bo Diddley body. Carved out pickups brighten his sound, but it stays gritty and warm. It’s all about the nuances, which he plays while manipulating the function of the bridge, pickups, and bended strings.

Raunchy sax playing on tracks like North Side Gal and Scandalous incites hips to twist and bodies to bop, while the beat of the drums drives the ensemble. This rockabilly rhythm and blues comes with heavy backbeat and a sincere delivery. Clapping hands, stomping feet, and twisting bodies are set electric with the vibrant playing. Crashing cacophony organized to give the perfect mix of clean composition and raw power comes together in unison. Even with this energy, McPherson is still able to settle the crowd and sing slow with intense passion the lyrics of Precious, emphasizing the words, “What does it mean when your blood vib-r-ates? I thought it was a bad sign.” The audience feels the mood, and stays transfixed in the shoegaze effect. Despite a full tour, and recovery from a show last night in Los Angles, McPherson and crew remain lively with completely passion for their craft.

By the end of the night, it feels like a tornado has blown through Alex’s and left all in attendance winded and lacking the electricity from the start of the night. As the three-song encore comes to a close, an excitement hangs in the air of the environment as the audience starts shuffling out. A few linger, swinging on the open dance floor to the beats of the DJ back in action, while others meet and greet with the band. J.D. McPherson leaves for Vegas tomorrow, and then the boys finish up their tour in San Diego. Whether a new album or additional tour is next, we will just have to hold out and see. Whatever is it, this town will certainly be waiting for it.

Set List
Crazy Horse
North Side Gal
I Can’t Complain
Fire Bug
Shy Boy
It Shook Me Up
You Must Have Met Little Caroline?
Mother of Lies
Rome Wasn’t Built In a Day
Head Over Heels
Let the Good Times Roll
Wolf Teeth
Steal Away
Everybody’s Talking ‘Bout the All-American

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Alex's Bar

2913 E. Anaheim St.
Long Beach, CA 90804



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