Save the awe for last
To most indie-rock fans, Calvin Johnson is regarded as a musical institution. Co-founder of K Records, former member of the seminal indie-rock group Beat Happening, later with the Halo Benders with Built To Spill's Dough Martsch, show promoter including the over 50-band-strong '91 event that was the International Pop Underground festival– the list goes on and on. It's not easy to downplay Johnson's lasting fingerprints on the DIY (Do It Yourself) ethos the indie scene sports today.
And here he was, two decades after starting down his road to underground fame, playing the basement of Tokyo Rose in a show a Johnson-virgin like me had to see.
When Times Ten opened the evening with three-piece guitar-rock, the singer/guitarist's high-pitched semi-screaming did not make for ease of lyrical dissection. But the sound the group was making more than made up for clarity. The guitar was also a thing of wonder– half average indie-rock band/ half '80s hair-rock, it left me smiling at her virtuosity.
V for Vendetta was on next, a two-piece– drums and guitar– self-proclaimed "math rock" act. I would describe math rock as a mostly instrumental exploration of musical abilities, where time signatures change with the minute hands on a clock. As singer Michelle Marchese was heard to remark before delving into the group's "dance song," it isn't something you can easily shake it to. I found them, err... interesting.
Little Wings took the third spot– Kyle Field of the group is actually the only permanent member; he enlists different musicians to help him for recordings and some performances, but Friday he took the stage solo. Lo-fi alt-country might give you an idea of Field's guy with an acoustic guitar sound. I was not that impressed and gritted my teeth when he made audience members near the Rose stage gather round him in a circle as he played from the floor. The mixture of hokeyness and egotism did not find a welcome place in my heart, and the songs I heard were merely competent.
Calvin Johnson brought up the rear, he of respectable haircut and baritone vocals. Whimsical, occasionally funny songs drifted off the stage where Johnson seemed to have something against using a microphone. He was easy to hear in spite of his lack of amplification: his booming voice echoed off the walls of the club, only aided by the hush that fell over the crowd when he appeared.
Breaking the mold of most indie-rock icons, Johnson's sensible do and muscle-bound upper-body probably threw members of the audience for a loop who were not previously acquainted with his appearance. It was strange, seeing this man I had read about so many times (though I have listened to his recordings a bit less). I'm not an avid indie-rock fan, but even so, it was awe-inspiring to see him in the flesh.