Soul and rock and roll revivalist acts are a dime a dozen these days. While some pull it off, plenty end up sounding lousy by focusing too much on nailing the authenticity instead of creating an original sound. JD McPherson is one of the rare performers who has succeeded in balancing retro sounds like rockabilly, rhythm and blues and soul with a contemporary, more adventurous sound. His music sounds like it came from the past, but doesn’t get bogged down by it. This in turn makes him an exciting performer to catch, and on October 5th the Oklahoma rocker hit Portland’s Crystal Ballroom.
Getting things started was Nikki Lane, who exuded charm as both a singer and a bandleader with her own brand of outlaw Americana. Backed by a talented band donning matching white cowboy outfits, Lane’s set mixed folkier sounds with cheerfully defiant country. Lane isn’t always an exciting performer to watch, but songs like “Love’s On Fire” played as a duet, “Good Man” with a full on honky tonk throwdown from the band, and the catchy country funk tune “All or Nothin’” that was reminiscent of Sheryl Crow all stood out. Other tunes like “Right Time” lit an outlaw country fire and had the crowd dancing, while “Jackpot” felt like an appropriate acknowledgment of the recent tragedy with its references to Las Vegas.
With this show happening on the eve of the release of his new album Undivided Heart and Soul, it was certain that JD McPherson would treat the crowd to some new tunes. But first, he got to some favorites, opening on a high with “Bossy” before launching into the shuffling 50s-style rocker “Fire Bug”. New song “Desperate Love” was heavy doo wop romper with extra umph from the organ before the infectious rockabilly groove of “Crying’s Just a Thing That You Do”. Part of McPherson’s appeal is his tight band, who make sure everything sounds smooth as hell, and the band got to show off their rock and roll chops on “Style (Is a Losing Game)”, an explosive tune with riffs and a chorus reminiscent the Rolling Stones classic “Jumping Jack Flash”. Each song got the crowd even more jazzed, and it was tough to resist dancing along with to the freewheeling, spunky “Under the Spell of City Lights” and the huge, slinky rock sound of “Head Over Heels”.
Other new song “Lucky Penny” drifted a bit too much into Black Keys territory, but its appeal was undeniable as it made the crowd combust into one big bouncy dance floor. Longtime favorite “Let The Good Times Roll” kept momentum going with its full-on electric guitar dance party bliss. With the crowd fired up on a heaping dose of rock and roll, the band barreled back onto the stage for a series of encores including a loving sing-a-long rendition of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” with Nikki Lane joining in on the tribute, and the boogie woogie soul blaster “North Side Gal.” By the time it was all over JD McPherson and his well-oiled band had succeeded in taking the crowd on a journey through American music history while simultaneously proving to be one of the most dynamic and original rock bands on tour today.
All photos by Greg Homolka.