Calvin Johnson, Sick Wish and Marquina
BUMP Headquarters, Boise. Wednesday the 7th of November, 2018
Given the vaguely whispered, faint rumblings I’d heard about this show, I wasn’t surprised when my friend and I showed up a half-hour early, and virtually no one had arrived yet. I admit, I almost immediately ran into another friend* in the parking lot, and could see Marquina setting up their gear through the window, but other than that, there wasn’t much going on.
After being told (ever-so-diplomatically) by the doorman that we shouldn’t be hanging out, smoking and vaping out front, a few of us ducked around back to wait for showtime. Before long, among a group of young guys lugging merch from the back of an SUV, Calvin Johnson himself came sauntering towards the back entrance of the venue. Reflexively, because the guy has been one of my heroes since I was maybe 14, I gave him a wave. And though I instantly regretted it, he very kindly waved and nodded at me.
Had a chat with a couple of the members of the opening act, and it turned out there were technical issues, so there was time to kill. Naturally, because the friend I dragged with me lived nearby, we dipped off to her place for a beer and a smoke. Got back, and still there was a lull. Daniel, singer and guitarist of Marquina, suggested we slip over to the nearest dive-bar and score a gulp of hooch, and I wholeheartedly seconded the motion.
So, lubricated just a bit, we gabbed and made our way back for what was, finally, showtime.
Marquina fired up their engines, and were better than I’d ever seen them. Granted, the in-house soundsystem was a bit weak, and the audience was all of perhaps 40 people, but these things didn’t seem to deter them in the least. A couple of my favorite songs (forgive me if I am not sure of the titles) were played to utter perfection.
And props to Rachael, who sang as well as ever. I later heard she was sick, but would never have known, given how she handled her mic.
Now, the “venue,” so to speak, isn’t much of a venue at all; near as I can tell, it’s the small space in a multi-unit storefront, and it publishes a magazine which seems to get cooler every time I read it. But it isn’t a club, doesn’t have a bar, and is devoid of most of the bells-n’-whistles of a fulltime live music venue, to say the least. Which isn’t to say it lacks charm. After Marquina played, and the audience seemed to coalesce, it reminded me of some of the better house shows I’ve attended. It had, for lack of better words, that kind of vibe.
Next up was perennial favorite, Sick Wish. The more I see this band, the deeper I find myself digging them. Admittedly, anyone who’s been around awhile knows that Brett Nelson’s bands tend to be a cut above the rest, but this one in particular is worth some serious attention.
Having seen this band several times, I am noticing a pattern in how they finish their sets. There are a pair of songs that seem to arrive at the end, every damn time. And they’re fucking marvelous songs. That baby-faced drummer kid tears that shit up. And it’s nice to see Brett manning the synth near the end. A rock solid performance.
Now, I dunno how historically aware of Calvin Johnson you are. So I will try to be brief here. The dude was my personal hero back at the dawn of the 90s, when I was but a poorly-dressed, dorky teenager. The first inkling I had that you could just, uh, start a record label came from Calvin’s example. I continued to admire him when that Seattle craze in the early 90s snatched up every semi-commercially-viable band, and he kept on truckin’. You ever hear that first Halo Benders record? That stuff is glorious. The home-studio project, Dub Narcotic, was a bit of a musical beacon, for me and several of my friends, too. So naturally, if this fucker’s comin’ to town, I’m gonna be there, right?Yep. Me, and dozens of dozens of others.
By the time Calvin and his band took the stage (which wasn’t so much a stage as it was a floor), there were a good 80 people in the room. Pretty wild, right? For a show at a non-venue? With little warning? Almost no real parking? It was deceptively charming, I tell you what.
After finishing his new album (via the production skills of Pat Carney, drummer of The Black Keys), Calvin took to the road with a band that had, apparently, just been assembled three days before. I am not guessing here. Calvin stated this as fact. And, much as he instructed me in the ways of redheads walking, I took him at his word.
The three-piece band behind Calvin looked as if they were a bit wet-behind-the-ears, but within a couple choruses, they proved to be fully legit. I stood, wholly agape at the drummer’s abilities, and the harmonic thing between bass n’ guitar came fully-formed by the bridge of the second song/
Meanwhile, naturally, you have yourself the unnerving baritone that is Calvin Johnson’s voice. If a voice could test sub-woofers, it’d be Calvin’s. A friend of mine texted me the next morning, “My girlfriend made me leave after two songs.” And that is something to which I can relate. After five or six songs, my friend took me aside and said it was time to split. Not a girlfriend, but still…your friend can’t handle Calvin? You leave.
Regardless, the handful of tracks from the man’s newly-released album made me remember why I like him so much to begin with, and had me wondering where he found these ass-kicking back-up guys.
That will remain a mystery, I guess. But these two links won’t:
and an album review:
* Jeremy Jensen, whose band The Very Most is well worth listening to. A little birdy tells me there’s a new album coming out next year, FYI. I suggest you check it out.
New Cassette by James Plane Wreck