A Unique Talent, Just Like Everyone ElseJanuary 30th, 2012
John Roderick – Mercury Lounge – January 28, 2012
The first time I saw John Roderick was with his full band, the Long Winters, at a now-defunct East L.A. venue back in 2008. He was in rock-star mode with long hair and a loud maroon jacket, and he never took off his sunglasses. But on Saturday night, a mellower version, perhaps a more authentic Roderick, took the stage at Mercury Lounge with an acoustic guitar, plaid shirt and horn-rimmed glasses. It ended up being more of a group-therapy session than a rock concert. He seemed to accept and embrace this, one of the most self-aware and whip-smart musicians of his generation, positioned at the edge of being an indie-rock icon and a guy, like everyone else, getting older.
Roderick came onstage, tuned his guitar and asked for requests, later admitting he had half a mind to make the entire hour-plus set all requests, but this emerged as mildly problematic in the night’s second song. After playing “Hindsight,” Roderick took another suggestion, “The Sound of Coming Down,” a song from the Long Winters’ nearly decade old When I Pretend to Fall. After the first verse and chorus, a perfect and sublime Roderick hook (“Hey, you know nobody’s chasing us”), it was clear the singer struggled with the lyrics to the second verse. When an audience member shouted the first couplet, Roderick laughed and picked up the thread. He would apologize for the misstep, but it was a perfect reflection of the evening: audience members throwing requests, help, sarcastic barbs and Roderick responding in kind—a sort of yuppie ringleader for this circus collection of liberal arts degrees, facial hair and memorized indie-rock lyrics.
The audience wanted more than the 11 acoustic versions of Long Winters songs that Roderick played. “The Commander Thinks Aloud,” which Roderick informed us was “about a spaceship crash,” produced the type of silent reverence that brought all these quippy, culturally relevant fans to the same place. It was Roderick, alone, describing the last moments of the Space Shuttle Columbia. The final chilling lyric, “The crew compartment is breaking up,” describes the fatal perils of reentry. And the moment transcended any snappy comebacks as Roderick earnestly, and somewhat awkwardly, struggled to thank everyone for coming. —Geoff Nelson