Whenever I start feeling resentful that people in this city aren’t coming out to shows or don’t appreciate musicians I think deserve it, I then wonder if I’d ever feel if a show like Sunday’s with Joshua English, Frank Turner and Jonah Matranga would be as intimate and memorable.
The turnout was modest and probably on target for a Sunday night. I’d guess about 30-35 were at Modified, a venue that probably could hold no more than 150 anyway. But instead of enduring awkward, empty spaces in the air, the artists – and the fans – were truly engaging, which is actually more encouraging than a packed show where people care more about chatting/drinking than the reason for which they bought a ticket. (And damn it if we don’t deserve at least a pat on the back for sitting in a venue whose air-conditioning was broken; don’t laugh, it was 87 degrees on Sunday. Yes, I know, it’s only March.)
At any rate, credit goes first to the artists, all of whom were wonderfully thorough and sincere – not just for how they play the music but for the way they set up the songs. There were stories behind them, and they felt compelled to open this window and share. By their nature, shows – especially small, acoustic-type gatherings as this – have the potential to stick with someone far longer than the two or three hourse they spent at the venue. Yet how many times do bands/singers tick off songs one after another with nothing more than a “thanks” in between? We connect to songs because we relate to them, to what a singer is saying or to what we interpret them as saying.
Nothing creates a more personal atmosphere than when an artist discloses his motives or inspiration. Jonah didn’t have to tell us he cried when his daughter got braces, and that this moment meant something more than she could grasp. But someone gets it, probably someone at the show. And they understand why he’d write a song about undying love for someone special.
In that regard, Jonah is unapologetically forthright and a heart-on-the-sleeve kind of guy. Other than John Vanderslice, I can’t think of a more accessible and fan-friendly musician. To wit: After about 30-35 minutes of playing new material, Jonah thanked the crowd for letting him indulge in playing newer songs, as if we’d just done him a huge favor. In return, he took impromptu requests – including anything from Onelinedrawing, New End Original and Far. (Did he really just play Bury White and Man Overboard – ahem, my request – on an acoustic gee-tar? Holy crap.) The man has a voice that could fill a room 10 times the size of Modified and yet his demeanor is humble and unassuming. Witness Jonah sitting on the front of the stage, with no mics, around-the-campfire style, to play his closer, a touching new song called So Long.
Likewise, Joshua English and Frank Turner made plenty of new friends. Turner, from England, can crank his voice to surprising heights, giving his charming songs for the everyman significant heft. What can you say about a guy with a Black Flag tattoo on his wrist and a Metallica sticker on his (acoustic) guitar? His words feel familiar and unpretentious – we all have our problems and Turner happens to write excellent songs about them.
English is a striking figure – tall and tattooed. He plays with a band on his LP Trouble None (out April 17), yet he appeared entirely comfortable as a man alone in a more stripped-down setting. What gets me is his voice. He has a tone and style that is hard to nail down in words: fluid and unique is the best I can do, and that’s not even fair.
As I mentioned previously, English’s knack for the two-and-a-half-minute gem is a rare and precise talent. Closing with a song like Miles, all 1:49 of it, leaves you both sated and wanting more because of lines like this: “See I know the difference between the life you live and a line you lifted from a book you read.”