I fell in love with Will Johnson in Austin in 2003. My first daughter was 9 months old. Will graciously ‘volunteered’ for an impromptu video interview at the Red Eyed Fly and offered this advice to my baby: ‘eat your carrots and take care of your dad.’ Good advice. He was a regular at SXSW for many years playing with Centro-matic, South San Gabriel and solo in the rain. I was hooked.
In 2006, Will played with David Bazan (Pedro the Lion), Mark Eitzel (American Music Club) and Vic Chesnutt in The Undertow Orchestra, with each member playing their own songs. In 2009 Monsters of Folk put him behind the drums with Jim James, Conor Oberst and M. Ward. Supergroups are often a bizarre animal. 2012 brought us a fantastic new solo record, Scorpion, plus New Multitudes, a Woody Guthrie tribute project with Yim Yames, Jay Farrar and Anders Parker. The past year, Will continued with another extensive solo living room tour, an intimate gift to his fans. The 2010 and 2013 shows in Oakland were pure bliss.
David Bazan. Fortunately there was no stage diving or crowd surfing.
Overseas puts Will back together with David Bazan plus Matt & Bubba Kadane (Bedhead, The New Year). The self-titled debut was just released and a second recording is in the works. I freely admit, I can not keep up with Will Johnson. I usually blame my kids, but Johnson became a father last year and it hasn’t slowed him down a bit.
I walked into The Bottom of the Hill exhausted, still recovering from The Coathangers/Guitar Wolf show there two nights prior, and without having heard a single Overseas song. Will started on drums with Bazan singing. Every few songs, they switched and Will took center stage. He has a way of connecting with an audience and likes to tell stories. Apparently while driving down from Portland the night before, the band had a most unfortunate run-in with a deer as driving through Weed. The disturbing event did seem to take a toll on the band. There’s a bunch of eyes-closed melancholy to this music even without any dead deer. The songs though are great. On “Here (Wish You Were)”, Bazan sings of the kids and wife he has ‘somewhere else,’ and he writes her postcards to let her know he is alive.
LA’s Radar Brothers opened up the show as a five-piece. Formed in 1993, they just released their eighth LP, interestingly titled Eight. Another rock n’ roll warrior, Jim Putnam continues to churn out the goods. They played “Xmas Lights” from 2010’s Illustrated Garden, “On the Line” from 2002’s And the Surrounding Mountains and my favorite, “Shifty Lies,” from 1999’s The Singing Hatchet.
“Horse Down” is the last song on the new record and the line ‘It’s Going To Be a Long Night Ahead’ features prominently in the lyrics but is also stamped on a beer koozie at the merch table. Despite some issues with his throat (Putnam suggests he may have inhaled a bird), the voice was in good form.
Through these eyes, both bands seemed a bit tired and you gotta wonder how great talent this under-appreciated finds the strength to carry on. Artists often say they have no choice but to do their art. I hope that is the case for Radar Brothers and Will Johnson. I will follow them until the end of time, yawning happily all the way.