Concert Review: Will Johnson Living Room Show, Kansas City, KS 5-19-12

Will Johnson has a voice and music set perfectly for the most intimate of shows. There is no environment more intimate than being in your own living room. Johnson has decided to tour and forgo public venues and go straight to the source, his fans. He trekked a 10 stop tour across the Midwest stopping only in living rooms to play a show each night.

The idea of a living room tour on the surface may seem like a misstep for an artist but when you look at it closely it may be a smarter route than a normal tour. The artists have no band in tow, very little equipment (just and acoustic guitar for Johnson) and a low overhead cost. Staying at the houses they play in on some nights even keeps hotel costs down, the only really consistent expense would be gas. With the price of tickets, say $20 each and 25-35 people on average plus merchandise sales; the stops could average a nice cash-in each night.

Music is also a very personal thing for most artists and they often seek out intimacy to perform their songs. They obviously would like larger crowds because it means more money but it is often a struggle for to keep the environment under control when the audience grows.

So Will Johnson came through Kansas City almost a year to the day after his last living room show in the town. (at the same house I might add) All the attendees are fans at these shows usually so there is an incredible amount of respect for the artist. This means very little to no chit-chat or talking, cell phones are put away and people are careful to shuffle in-between songs. The audience members were each armed with a couple bottles or cans of alcohol in a seat only a couple feet away Johnson.

Will Johnson 2012 Living Room Tour poster

The kitchen counter was covered with a small selection of Will Johnson’s many cds and a large selection of small prints each numbered to 100 of Will Johnson’s baseball series of paintings and a great tour poster unique to this 10 stop run. The baseball prints were available at the last show as well but only a couple of them. They were much larger prints as too. Roberto Clemente was the only really well known player available last year but this year was much different as the prints graced the likenesses of Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams and Pete Rose among others.

The show would begin a little after 8:00 and finish up about 9:15. It would include about 15 acoustic Will Johnson songs that would have no other instrumentation other than the occasional tapping of Johnson’s foot on the hard wood floor. Johnson’s voice is almost absurd how much it fills a room, his voice is best described as simply “big”. He has a very good singing voice and uses more as an instrument in itself than any other artist I have ever seen.

His setlist seemed to be totally improvised and was based mainly on his solo work. He did do two of his better known songs from his band Centro-matic; “Flashes & Cables” and “Iso-Residue.” After hearing Johnson perform “Iso-Residue” with a full band last fall live it was a stark difference to see it translated to a solo acoustic arrangement. Also “Flashes & Cables” was interesting to hear without the big punch of instrumentation that comes in with the lyric “Nobody told us that the bastards were here…”

He would do three songs off his solo album Vultures Await with the excellent closing song “Nothing But Godzilla” the sing-along portion of the show “Closing Down My House” and possibly the best song Johnson has ever written in “Just To Know What You’ve Been Dreaming.” These songs would ultimately serve as the highlights of the show.

The Little Raider EP would get the title track played from it as well as “To Coupland Lines” off the short 5 song EP. Last year Johnson would play “Devil On The Interstate Line” from the same EP. Will Johnson’s collaboration with Jason Molina would also get some attention with “Twenty Cycles to the Ground.” Another “one-off” project would get a song played from it with the Woody Guthrie penned “V.D. City” from the New Multitudes album working its way into the setlist as well.

With how prolific Will Johnson is it came as no surprise that some new songs were performed. He played two songs he had pegged for the new Centro-matic record that Johnson estimated for a release late next year. He also once again played “The Scorpion” from his yet to be released next solo album that should be out this year, although he performed it last year and mentioned the record had been done for a while at that time.

The intimacy of the living room show was just phenomenal experience. It is a performance unlike any other I have ever encountered. The songs come across so much more sincere and personal, they are almost like a conversation between the listener and the artist. I would highly recommend going to a living room show if you ever get lucky enough to have the opportunity.

Here is an estimated setlist that isn’t 100% correct but should be very close:

Will Johnson Living Room Show, Kansas City, KS on May 19,2012

  • Almost Let You In
  • To Coupland Lines
  • Atlanta
  • Flashes & Cables
  • V.D. City
  • Iso-Residue
  • new Centro-matic song 1
  • new Centro-matic song 2
  • Just To Know What You’ve Been Dreaming
  • Little Raider
  • 20 Cycles to the Ground
  • The Scorpion
  • Closing Down My House
  • Nothing But Godzilla

Go to the Undertow Records store and buy some of Will Johnson’s stuff.

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