Tag Archives: Will Johnson


John Moreland Converts the Masses at The Bowery Ballroom

June 8th, 2017

John Moreland – The Bowery Ballroom – June 7, 2017

John Moreland writes songs of redemption, songs written for the downtrodden that are so white hot with purpose they straddle the line between cautionary tales and gospel. Armed with a voice that conjures up how the Boss might sound after a bad night and the vindicated pessimism of Townes Van Zandt, Moreland doesn’t tug at your heartstrings as much as he eviscerates them. In his interview on the podcast Walking the Floor with Foo Fighters lead guitarist—and country music aficionado—Chris Shilett, Moreland explained that he had cut his teeth on punk and hardcore early in life, but everything had changed as soon as he heard the music of Steve Earle. After listening, Moreland quickly got it into his head that he could write songs that could equal Earle’s power and started recording and touring the country nonstop. After years of paying his dues, the Tulsa, Okla., singer-songwriter recently signed with 4AD for his third album, Big Bad Luv, and brought his tour to a packed Bowery Ballroom last night.

Will Johnson played solo to open the show. With a deep D-tuned guitar and a voice as rough as a tree trunk after a chainsaw exposed its bare wood, he mesmerized the audience with songs from his solo career as well as his criminally underrated band Centro-matic. The highlight was his meditation on loss, “Just to Know What You’ve Been Dreaming,” with the refrain “But when you’re not around, nothing makes a sound” landing like a slow moving haymaker. And then when John Moreland began, you could practically hear teardrops falling into beer glasses between the notes throughout the Bowery Ballroom. Accompanied by fellow singer-songwriter John Calvin Abney on lead guitar, harmonica and piano, Moreland ran through his songbook with efficiency, barely taking the time to address the crowd. Not that the audience needed anything more from him as everyone in the venue was completely captivated as soon as he sat down in his chair to play.

Moreland’s songs did the heavy lifting, and he showcased old favorites from In the Throes, High on Tulsa Heat as well as Luv. The best song of his main set was the new song “Lies I Chose to Believe,” which took on a new life live, stripping away the full-band arrangement and allowing his words to dig in deeper than they could on record. Moreland’s brief encore consisted of two songs from his breakthrough, In the Throes, “Break My Heart Sweetly” and “I Need You to Tell Me Who I Am,” which had the crowd clamoring for more. After the show, the audience quickly formed a massive line heading down to the merch table on the first floor. It was easy to see that if anyone had never heard of Moreland before this show, they had just been converted. —Patrick King | @MrPatKing





Two Chances to Say Goodbye to Centro-matic This Week

December 9th, 2014

Will Johnson, equally talented and prolific, is a busy man. He’s been a member of several bands and has recorded on his own, which is why he formed Centro-matic as a solo project back in 1995. But after releasing a few singles, the project blossomed into a full-time band two years later, when Scott Danbom (cello, violin), Mark Hedman (bass) and Matt Pence (drums) came aboard. And ever since the North Texas four-piece has been extremely busy, touring extensively—bringing catchy alt-country and jangly rock that’s often compared to Neil Young and Crazy Horse across North America and Europe—and recording seven EPs and 11 LPs, including this year’s highly regarded Take Pride in Your Long Odds (stream it below). “Fast forward nearly two decades since the auspicious solo project that was Johnson’s apprenticeship mining Robert Pollard-esque lyrics and lo-fi recording techniques to today’s Take Pride in Your Long Odds,” said PopMatters, “and you’ll find a band with honed instincts still operating with reckless abandon.” And while Centro-matic (above, performing “Reset Anytime” for KXT FM) are out on the road in support of their new album and in as fine form as ever, it turns out that this is also a farewell tour. According to Johnson, “I can write with no hint of drama that our December tour will be the last Centro-matic tour for the indefinite and foreseeable future. For a handful of reasons, the time finally feels right to celebrate the existence of this thing, then let it rest.” But before they’re gone for good, you’ve got two chances to say goodbye, on Thursday at Rough Trade NYC and on Friday at Mercury Lounge.


Overseas, a Supergroup of Friends, Delights Mercury Lounge

August 20th, 2013

Overseas – Mercury Lounge – August 19, 2013

Seems like these days the line between supergroup and bunch of friends having fun playing music can be a very thin and fuzzy one. Overseas—Will Johnson, David Bazan, and Bubba and Matt Kadane—feel much more like the latter, which isn’t to say there’s nothing super about the music they’re making. After a strong warm-up set from Strand of Oaks, Overseas eased onto the stage, the getting-things-ready portion transitioning into the set proper with little pomp or circumstance. They opened with “Here (Wish You Were)” from their self-titled album, Johnson starting on drums, Bazan on lead vocals and a warm-buzzed bass, the brothers Kadane on guitars. The song featured the band’s strengths when Johnson picked up the backing harmony for Bazan, their two distinctive voices adding unexpected strength to each other.

While the album sounds like an album, live, the material felt much more raw and in progress. It’s fun to watch a band get their legs under them, and they even jokingly thanked the audience for coming to their rehearsal. Songs were of the short-and-sweet variety, with little extracurricular activity. After a few tunes, Overseas loosened up and began rotating instruments so that everyone seemingly had a chance on bass and/or drums and/or guitar. The simplicity of the drumming by nondrummers was part of the appeal, sticking the focus on the songwriting and Bazan’s and Johnson’s voices. Those two seemed to be in constant collaboration with everyone, making others sound better or helping them do their best.

Statistically speaking, it was inevitable that Overseas would eventually exist. Johnson took lead vocals for the middle batch of songs, like “Lights Are Gonna Fall,” which sounded good enough to make you realize that the reality is these guys have more great material than they have bands to play them with. Somewhat surprisingly, they announced they already had plans for a follow-up album, playing at least two new tunes that may have been the best of the bunch—one with the line “bloody your nose” that had a manic energy, Bazan on vocals and a great dueling riff from the Kadanes. After more than an hour, Overseas finished as unceremoniously as they’d begun. Seems like they had exhausted their material, but probably not for long. —A. Stein





This Jam Is Your Jam

March 15th, 2012

Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Yim Yames and Anders Parker – Webster Hall – March 14, 2012

While the stage was loaded with talent last night show at Webster Hall, the real MVP might have been the lone roadie/guitar tech. The crowd watched this guy tune about a zillion guitars—acoustic, electric, bass—getting the stage ready. It was an impressive feat and all that work was absolutely necessary because  every single instrument was used to its fullest extent over the course of an awe-inspiring show. This was a modern day supergroup playing music written to accompany unfinished lyrics and writings of Woody Guthrie. The band is Jay Farrar (Son Volt, et al.), Anders Parker (Gob Iron, et al.), Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Will Johnson (Centro-matic, et al.), who nominally played rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass and drums respectively.

They performed with a communal spirit that would have made Guthrie proud, sharing lead vocals and swapping roles throughout the night. As far as supergroups go, this one is about halfway between Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Blind Faith, matching hefty harmonies with all-out rock and roll. The first part of the show was expected as the band rolled through all the material on New Multitudes. It was great to watch each member take the lead role and see the others transform into a backing band in the style of that leader. So that Farrar’s opener, “Hoping Machine,” embraced Son Volt’s twang-with-grit feel while James’s “My Revolutionary Mind” had a distinct MMJ arc, starting with a focus on his voice and then exploding into a flesh-crawling rock jam. Practically every permutation of two-, three- and four-part harmonies were realized, with each voice distinctly on its own making powerful music together. My personal highlight was “Chorine My Sheba Queen” with James sweetly harmonizing with Johnson’s lead vocal while Parker and Farrar beautifully laid down atmospheric drum-melody behind them.

The set lasted about an hour, and the crowd, which had been a perfect balance of enthusiastic and attentive all night, howled for an encore. What they got in return would better be described as a full-on second set as each member played a solo acoustic tune of his own, capped by James’s spine-tingling sing-along version of “Wonderful (The Way I Feel).” Again the show felt satisfyingly complete, but the band wasn’t yet finished, as each member highlighted another of his songs with the whole band in tow, each seemingly topping the previous in a playful we-rock-harder competition. As the “encore” reached the hour mark, the band played a ninth song with every member taking lead for a verse. What followed was a blistering, jammy  rock out with noisy guitar interplay shaking Webster Hall that went on in glorious feedback, surely exactly the way Woody Guthrie diagrammed it many years ago, until each musician left the stage one at a time to rousing applause (and a nod to the guy who had to tune all those guitars). —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Joe Papeo | www.irocktheshot.com


Patterson Hood Hits Crowd with Lyrics Then Guitar

June 24th, 2009

Patterson Hood and the Screwtopians – Music Hall of Williamsburg – June 23, 2009

(Photo: Adam Smith)

(Photo: Adam Smith)

Patterson Hood is one of those rare songsmiths who will get you to lean in closer so you can better hear the words he’s singing and then, once you’re within range, smack you silly in the face with some heavy-duty guitar. Such is the case with the Drive-By Truckers and such was the case last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg with his current side project, the Screwtopians. One minute I was straining to catch Hood’s lyrics (what was that he sang about “baseball and science”?) the next minute I was straining to catch my balance as guitars, keyboards, drums, bass and pedal steel whipped up a raucous rock.

Personally, I enjoyed it when things got a little quieter on tunes like “The Range of War,” where the lyrics were transmitting clearly and the pedal steel dominated. Then again, I’m a sucker for the pedal steel. Hood explained the project: Dusting off some recently rediscovered 15-year-old tunes riddled with the anger of a barely employed recent divorcée and then “responding” to them with new material written by the same guy 10 years later in anticipation of the birth of his first child.

The Screwtopians had all the earmarks of a side project with friends from other groups filling in the backing band and guitar players turning away from the audience to rock out, more like buddies in a garage having fun than a band trying to earn its keep. Perhaps the best part was the fact that Will Johnson from Centro-matic was in it—not necessarily for his playing in the Screwtopians, but for the fact that he was in the house to play an opening set. Johnson held down the stage with just guitar and voice, singing out of the side of his mouth like every song was a whispered secret to the crowd, but a stage whisper at best. His voice—loud, crisp, powerful and soulful—was the best thing going. He concluded with a full-band tune that had me hoping his next side project might be Will Johnson and the Screwtopians. —A. Stein