by Stephanie L. Carlin
On April 17th, I went down to the Sinclair in Cambridge to see J.D. McPherson. The room was rustic, the lighting was harsh, but there was excitement in the air to see this rockabilly band rock it.
A little history before we get into the logistics of the show: J.D. McPherson is a singer-songwriter from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. After grad school, J.D. was fired from his job as a middle school teacher. He told the Rolling Stone that he was grateful that it happened, despite having to start from square one. Even then, J.D. and some friends managed to pull out a major-label release in 2012 with Signs and Signifiers, just a year after he was fired. Since then, the band has been pulling out all the stops, touring all over the country and releasing two more albums. Their latest, Undivided Heart and Soul, was released back in October of last year.
The style of this band is particularly interesting. It’s rockabilly, which if you don’t know, is basically 50’s style rock-and-roll. There’s a sense of modernism when it comes to rockabilly because the difference between 50’s rock and now is the giant change in technology and style between now and then. Rock in the 50’s was televised in respectful environments with respectful crowds watching and players were in suits.
That is not what J.D. McPherson is. His style almost has a punk quality to it, in the way his lyrics are written, in the album art on the right, and in just how loud his band can get. You would be surprised how much of the string bass I could hear from the balcony. Jimmy Sutton is their bassist, and in parts where the band was getting really crazy and loud, I could still hear him messing with the bass groove. The same could be said for the band’s organist/keyboardist, Raynier Jacob Jacildo (that’s right – organist). It’s hard to get that kind of sound in the space we were in, but it is amazing what happened acoustically in that space.
As a frontman, J.D. didn’t stand out that much. He stood in this one part of the stage where he would sing and occasionally play a guitar solo. It was a very relaxed stance but I was confused about why he was so still. Then, up in the balcony, I realized something. If he had moved anywhere else, no one could see the band. If he moved to the left, drums, bass, and keys would be cut off and if he moved to the right, Doug Corcoran, saxophonist/guitarist, would’ve been blocked. So, where he was standing was the only place he could be for everybody to see in a band and, in a way, I prefer that. It’s pretty amazing that, despite his name also being the name of the band, he was willing to still himself so that everybody could be seen.
As for the music itself, it’s a taste thing. I’ll be honest: some people I know get really mad at rockabilly because it can come off as uncreative, which I understand on the surface. The music itself, though, is meant to be performed not just as music, but as it was originally – televised in front of an audience. And J.D. McPherson, for an ex-middle school teacher with his buddies, puts on one hell of a show.