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Jerry Joseph Pulls No Punches at Mercury Lounge on Sunday Night

May 1st, 2017

Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons – Mercury Lounge – April 30, 2017


Jerry Joseph isn’t one to sugarcoat: As longtime friend Widespread Panic bassist (and sometime bandmate) Dave Schools has put it, his music can be “an absolute emotional slaughterhouse.” Which is not to call it dour—a Jerry Joseph show is a master class in old school, highly emotional rock and roll energy—just that when you experience it you’re often in for a scorched-earth kind of evening, no-holds-barred, no-punches-pulled, no-edges-filed-down, no phony sanctimony. He’s an iconoclast, for sure, and the less he seems to care about how some take to his abrasive sentiments, the more his music deepens and becomes more soulful. It can sound ferocious and cynical, tender and fragile, world-wise and world-weary. And he’s crazy prolific. Each time Joseph returns to New York City he’s got new songs that sound of a piece with everything he’s done over a 30-plus-year career—and yet don’t repeat himself.

One of Joseph’s masterstrokes was finding bandmates who could be an extension of this personality and translate it into feral rock—jammy and shape-shifting. The Jackmormons, now again a trio after a stretch as a quartet, returned to Mercury Lounge Sunday night for a rare local long-play, meaning it wasn’t over and done within a tight hour and had ample room to stretch out, welcome friends and do what they do best: rough-scuffed folk rock played at times with Crazy Horse–like abandon and paint-stripping guitar. Whether it was the anthemic, gospel-y “Think on These Things” to open or the roiling “Soda Man” or a long, gnarly jam out of Bob Marley’s “Positive Vibration” that burrowed its way into the metal-scraping “Brother Number One,” every tune took its time, unhurried, and yeah, with incendiary guitar solos, chunky bass and crashing drums but none of it out of place or feeling extra. A lot of bands jam because they want to expand a song with improvisational solos or groupthink, but Jackmormons jams seem to go long because the emotional weight of a lot of this material commands a full workout. As an audience member, you’d rather be drained instead of left too heavy.

This show was a benefit for Joseph’s forthcoming trip to Iraq to work with refugee, cultural and educational organizations—a very Jerry Joseph think to do—and summoned some extra friends to accompany Joseph, bassist Steven James Wright and drummer Steve Drizos. Among them were the sage Mookie Siegel, dappling the music with heavenly organ and piano, and the ace Jamie McLean, bringing a red-meat blues-rock sensibility as a foil for Joseph’s own teeth-bared guitar playing. Especially remarkable was how well both of them became an extension of the Jackmormons, a trio that at times couldn’t seem to possibly hold more personality, and yet, there they were as part of the band, deep in its thrall. Potent stuff, you’d say with a chuckle, like calling an erupting volcano “potent stuff.” —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson