JD McPherson

Doc Roc Presents

JD McPherson

Parker Millsap, Jesse Aycock & Lauren Barth

Sat Dec 16

Doors: 6:30 pm / Show: 7:30 pm

Cain's Ballroom

Tulsa, OK

$19.00

This event is all ages


Adv $17
Day of $19
Door $19
Mezzanine ($21) $32

There is a $2 fee that applies to each ticket purchased at the Cain's Box Office.

No re-entry! No smoking! No refunds!

Support acts are subject to change without notice!

JD McPherson
JD McPherson
You could mistake JD McPherson for a revivalist, given how few other contemporary artists are likely to assert, as he boldly does, that “’Keep a Knockin’ by Little Richard is the best record ever made. It’s so insanely visceral, you feel like it’s going to explode your speakers. If I’m listening to that in the car, I find myself having to brake suddenly. I can listen to that and it makes me feel like I’m 20 feet tall. And the feeling of joy I get from that record is always going to be the real push behind trying to make music.”

But in a very real sense, McPherson is much more a pioneer than roots resuscitator. He’s knocking at the door of something that arguably hasn’t yet been accomplished—a spirited, almost spiritual hybrid that brings the forgotten lessons from the earliest days of rock & roll into a future that has room for the modernities of studio technique and 21st century singer/songwriter idiosyncrasies that Richard Penniman would not recognize. Let the Good Times Roll, his second album, is a stranger, and more personal affair than its Fats Domino-redolent title might at first suggest, but the name isn’t exactly ironic, either. If you, too, brake for pleasure, you’ll screech to a halt at the enrapturing sound of these Good Times.

His first album, 2012’s Signs & Signifiers, was hailed as “an utterly irresistible, slicked-back triumph” by Mojo and “a rockin', bluesy, forward-thinking gold mine that subtly breaks the conventions of most vintage rock projects” by All Music Guide. The Washington Post wrote that, “he and his bandmates are great musicians taking ownership of a sound, not just mimicking one.” That same review remarked upon how, “the album sounds as if the band is in the same room with the listener.” But for the follow-up, McPherson wanted to maintain that raw power while also capturing the more mysterious side of the records he loves. To that slightly spookier end, he enlisted as a collaborator Mark Neill, known for his work as a producer and engineer with versed-in-the-past acts going back to the Paladins in the 1980s, but, most recently, for recording The Black Keys and Dan Auerbach—a friend of McPherson’s who co-wrote the new album’s “Bridge Builder.”

Talking up one of the freshly minted tunes, “Bridge Builder,” McPherson describes it as being “the psychedelic Coasters.” That no such thing really existed prior to this album doesn’t deter him. “This is something I actually talked about with Mark at the beginning of the record: ‘I want to make a ‘50s psychedelic record!’”

Neill was up to meeting that seemingly oxymoronic challenge. “It’s still a rock & roll record, but the borders are expanding a little bit,” McPherson explains. “With some of the writing that came out this time, it became apparent the songs weren’t going to lend themselves well to our usual process. So as we sought out a producer, we took aim for a slightly wider—I guess hi-fi is the word—sound, and got more experimental. Mark Neill certainly has all the tools in his hardware shop with which to produce any range of sounds from vintage Capitol Records stuff on up to…gosh, we listened to so much David Bowie making this record. We’d play Primal Scream’s Screamadelica to listen to how they suddenly started making dance records, and then Mark would play us Marilyn McCoo singing ‘Marry Me, Bill’ over and over again, I guess trying to re-wire our brains.”

Amid this flurry of possible influences, a few production approaches stuck. “I find that the records that I like to listen to over and over again are the ones that have those strange engineering choices, or weird sounds. I was very attracted to the idea of using plate reverb. So whereas the first record was really informed by New Orleans rhythm and blues, where everything was very dry and up-front, I really was listening more this time to a ton of Link Wray, and the Allen Toussaint-produced Irma Thomas stuff, and all the early ‘60s rock & roll that is saturated in plate reverb.”

McPherson certainly doesn’t begrudge the attention that Signs & Signifiers unexpectedly brought him. “If it hadn’t been for the ‘North Side Gal’ video, this probably never would have caught on,” he says, recalling the fame he found on YouTube even before Rounder picked up his indie release. “That’s how we found our label and found our management. I was still teaching school, and here I am with got this video that’s like a million hits. I’m like, what? I had no plans to quit my job. Luckily, I lost it.” A middle school art department’s loss was Rounder’s and the rock world’s gain.

It’d been a while in coming. “I started getting obsessed with this stuff when I was in high school,” McPherson says. “There wasn’t much to do where I grew up in rural southeast Oklahoma, where I lived on a 160-acre cattle ranch.” When he discovered early rock & roll and R&B, “it was like finding a treasure no one else knew about. Nobody around me had any interest whatsoever in Little Richard except for me and my friend. Once we started listening to Jerry Lee Lewis, and to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, which was the best thing you could ever find, everything started to change. I’ve got a videotape of us playing at a pool hall in the early ‘90s in Talihina, Oklahoma, and it’s cowboys and criminals and people that are cooking meth up in the hills standing around playing pool, and here we are with our greaser uniforms on, playing Buddy Holly’s ‘Rockin’ Around with Ollie Vee’ followed by ‘Clampdown’ by the Clash, and all these people are really confused. Those were happy times.”

The covers and the grease got dropped along the way to adulthood, of course, even though he knows what he does now is likely to wind up with some inaccurate revival tags. “There’s never going to be a point where I’m not going to hear the word ‘rockabilly’,” he says with a laugh and a sigh, “even though it’s not anthropologically correct, because it’s separate from rhythm & blues and rock & roll. Not being able to be perceived as how you sort of define what you’re doing is frustrating, but you just have to understand that not everybody is a nerd about this stuff. What it comes down to is that you can’t expect for people to listen if you’re not doing something personal. I mean, you can’t just do covers of Johnny Burnette Trio songs, because that idea has already been expressed, and it was actually moved past pretty quickly. Rock & roll music changed really quickly when it started becoming ubiquitous youth music and the President’s sister started doing the Twist. Yet there’s something intrinsically valuable about a lot of those ideas that haven’t fully been explored yet. And you take everything you love about it and write personal music and hope it translates into its own thing. I always hear ‘Man, bringing this stuff back is really important,’ but I have goal to bring rock & roll back in some reactionary way to battle something else. I want it to just kind of nudge it into its own little place alongside what’s happening now.”

Since the debut album came out, McPherson has played for a lot of those aforementioned genre nerds who pick up on every single influence. But he and his band have also opened for acts ranging from Bob Seger (getting a standing ovation at an arena in Detroit, the headliner’s hometown) to the Dave Matthews Band to Nick Lowe to Eric Church (who sought him out to write some songs together). For a Halloween night 2014 show at the Forum in L.A., super-fan Josh Homme, one of McPherson’s biggest supporters, handpicked him to open for Queens of the Stone Age. These may not all seem like natural pairings, but the music is primal and melodic enough that, after a few minutes, it never fails to make sense even to audiences with the least of expectations and musical educations.

“Man, people may not even know it, but they all like that stuff,” McPherson declares. “I’ve seen it happen over and over again. You’re in a record store where they’re playing some weird underground amorphous electronic record that has no configurable beat per minute, and then they put on a Sam Cooke record, and everybody is just like ‘Ohhh’— like a weight lifted. All kinds of music are interesting, but man, there’s something about the 1/4/5, 12-bar blues form that’s just hard-wired into American brains. And I shouldn’t say just American brains, because this stuff is still really huge in Europe, too. Everybody likes rock & roll. They just either won’t admit it or don’t know it yet,” he laughs, unshakable in his faith that the whole world is or will be on a roll.
Parker Millsap
Parker Millsap
Parker Millsap didn’t know not to sing like this. Listening to old albums as a kid alone in his room, he didn’t realize howling like a Delta blues ghost readying the world for rock-and-roll isn’t a how skinny white boy from Purcell, Oklahoma usually sounds.

“I was listening to records from the 20s and 40s, and the voices that came out were otherworldly,” Millsap says. “I was really attracted to that. At the same time, I grew up doing congregational singing in church––you know, everybody stands up, grabs a hymnal, turns to number 162, and sings ‘I’ll Fly Away’ at the top of their lungs. I learned to sing in that context, where nobody’s listening to you. We are all just singing.”

People not listening to Millsap could only last so long––not just because the arresting power of his voice cuts through any crowd, but also because the 22 year-old is always reaching for something worth saying.

New album The Very Last Day (Okrahoma Records/Thirty Tigers) proves an ideal vehicle for Millsap’s message, delivered via gospel-tinged rock-and-roll poetry. In the midst of a world so fond of condemnation as entertainment, Millsap offers open-armed love of people and their stories. Whether he’s singing about the experience of a gay friend, longing for his evangelical father’s acceptance, or as the King of the Underworld wild with passion, his character-driven songs mine deep wells of joy and despair to create gut-punching narratives that are sometimes hellish, sometimes heavenly, and always human.

The Very Last Day is the anticipated follow-up to his 2014 eponymous record, which netted him high-profile praise from NPR, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and others, as well as a nomination for Americana Emerging Artist of the Year. Millsap is young, but he isn’t green. He has been playing in bands since junior high and recording since he was 16. “For a long time, we’d go play gigs around Oklahoma and Texas, and there was not a lot of press,” Millsap says, reflecting on recent accolades. “I just thought, ‘I like doing this more than I like working construction.’” He laughs and pauses. “When people started noticing, there was this new, weird pressure.”

Millsap responded to the pressure by assembling a cast of new and old friends and heading to the studio. “We got to go make a record that I didn’t think I’d ever have the opportunity to make,” he says, before adding with characteristic sincerity, “I got to make a really cool album with my friends. And I’m grateful.”

Produced by Gary Paczosa (Alison Krauss, Dixie Chicks, Dolly Parton) and Millsap, and engineered/mixed by Paczosa and Shani Gandhi, The Very Last Day was recorded at Dockside Studio in Maurice, Louisiana. Millsap recently moved to Nashville from Guthrie, Oklahoma, but while recording, he lived at the Louisiana studio with musicians including fiddle player Daniel Foulks, drummer Paddy Ryan, and bassist Mike Rose, the latter of whom has been his best friend and bandmate since middle school.
Millsap wrote all but one of the eleven songs on The Very Last Day. The album demands serious solitary listening even as it begs to be the soundtrack for a weekend roadtrip with friends, and clearly delights in having it both ways. The trio of devilish fiddle, poignant acoustic guitar, and thundering upright bass that originally won audiences over is now joined by a chorus of instruments including percussion, piano, and Millsap himself on growling electric guitar that until this record, he’d only dreamed of incorporating. And of course, Millsap’s haunting voice is on magnificent display: it’s wickedly guttural but can turn on a dime to hypnotically soothe listeners like a songbird.

“Hades Pleads” kicks off the album with heart-racing aplomb. Millsap swoons and pants as he channels the devil in love, inspired by Greek mythology’s Hades and Persephone. A long black train roars through the track, as Millsap puts Death on a different sort of prowl. “Hands Up” is a foot-stomper that tells the story of a convenience store hold-up from the point of view of the robber, before, as Millsap says, “they put a picture of him on the TV as people try to find him because he’s now officially a bad guy. I don’t think he’s all bad.” The smoldering “A Little Fire” mulls over the paradoxical destruction and hope in different kinds of blazes, while “Wherever You Are” hawks the freedom of being you, even in narrow-minded places. “You Gotta Move,” the only song on the record Millsap didn’t write, is a blues-soaked vocal showcase.

The religious imagery and characters so stirring in Millsap’s attention-grabbing last release are here as well, although Millsap does not consider himself religious these days. But like many artists in any medium, Millsap often uses spiritual teachings, imagery and traditions to explore what is quintessentially human. He uses the approach with sublime effectiveness in “Heaven Sent,” a beautiful standout on an album rich in transcendent moments. The song’s tortured young gay protagonist asks his Christian father question after question about the limits of his and Jesus’s love. “You say that it’s a sin, but it’s how I’ve always been / Did you love me when he was just my friend?” Millsap cries, pleading but defiant. He typically writes his songs in the first-person perspective. The result is always intimate, but in “Heaven Sent,” it’s especially compelling. The song is subversive and moving without employing an ounce of hate. Add the knowledge that Millsap, a young straight man, is singing as a young gay man, and the tune also carries a real-life dimension of empathy and solidarity.

The title track starts with a nod to the Louvin Brothers before heralding nuclear apocalypse. It’s another example of Millsap’s penchant for using folkloric music and stories as the framework for modern observations. In “The Very Last Day,” Millsap’s narrator takes the day of reckoning out of God’s hands and places it squarely on the shoulders of men––“Ain’t no sweet chariot is gonna come for to carry everybody home / No instead, it’s gonna be a bomb. And here it comes!” Sauntering and darkly euphoric, it’s Millsap’s favorite of the new tunes to perform live.

“I was living in Guthrie when I wrote a lot of these songs,” Millsap explains. “Oklahoma in the winter looks post-apocalyptic. We don’t have a lot of evergreen trees, and the grass turns brown to the point of colorlessness. Everything just looks like skeletons and grayness.” He was also reading Stephen King’s The Stand and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road while binge watching The Walking Dead. “Some people just want to watch the world burn,” Millsap says. “A lot of the songs I grew up singing in church are about the end of the world, so it wasn’t uncomfortable for me to go there. It’s fun.”

“Tribulation Hymn” closes the album as an unforgettable picture of isolation and regret. The Day of Judgment has come and gone, and Millsap’s protagonist has been left behind. He leaves listeners with the image of a chorus of crows, singing in the rafters above the narrator in an empty church.

As Millsap sings his stories about lonesomeness and longing, the supernatural and the ordinary, even the saddest portraits become loving odes to everyday humanity. “I’ve learned to trust people before I’ve learned to distrust them, which can be dangerous,” he says. “But yeah. I do like people. I think you have to. What else are you going to like?”
Jesse Aycock & Lauren Barth
Jesse Aycock & Lauren Barth
Venue Information:
Cain's Ballroom
423 N Main St.
Tulsa, OK, 74103
http://www.cainsballroom.com