Dave Johnson has been playing around here for decades, cultivating a fiercely loyal fan base plying the kind of music that doesn't regularly get airplay these days. He's a fine craftsman who has played on bills with some huge names, including but not limited to: Dada, Suicidal Tendencies, and Reeves Gabrels -- most noted for playing for David Bowie and as part of the Cure since 2012.
Possessed of a hard-hitting voice and surrounded with a raucous group of OG musicians who have obviously been around a turn or two of the wheel, the man isn't afraid to freely spin on a dime from kickass hard-rock blues to something more plaintively, wistfully soulful. If I had to throw out a comparison, I'd say that the sound is something along the lines of early Blues Traveler or the Spin Doctors, but far less formulaic. For a guy who's essentially seems like he's on tour six months out of every year, you'd think there'd be way more notice of Johnson's seasoned talent. I was surprised not to see a great deal more past press highlighting the solid work he's putting out. He did pick up a Veer nomination last year, but in the Country category -- which.. Okay? But not really? Anyways you cut it, if you dug the blues-pop explosion of the mid 90s, you'll love these songs.
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Hampton's Tornado Bait joined up with sometimes partner in crime -- bassist/songwriter Unk Al for a set that rocked a new standard atop a long list of eclectic past performances. While this group has generally tread a path that could be called Grunge-grass or Alt-Country, the addition of Al's infectious groove plunged the group into bold new ground best described as Rockabilly meets Parliament Funkadelic. Topping it off with ten members ranging in ages from what looked like six years old to some in their mid 50s, the band showed up dressed to slay with a range of outlandish attire running the gamut from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to some sort of twisted Grimm's Faerie Tale. Johnson joining them like a hard-charging Blues Brother at the end was icing on the cake.
Sadly, the most visually engaging group I've seen at the NorVa since GWAR was marred by poor lighting choices. I'm not sure why you'd light a band that had this much eye candy happening as though they were Echo & the Bunnymen, but the high reds and overall dim output of the venue's potentially potent rig failed to properly showcase the party happening on stage.
Regardless of those concerns (which, I'm guessing, were completely beyond the group's control) the end result was a riotous half hour that had the crowd shaking booty, fists pumping high in the air. This was hands down the best set I've seen this year, and I don't say that lightly.
If you spy either Tornado Bait or Unk Al separately on a marquee, I urge you to pony up. But if you see them together? You're a fool if you don't. In the past I've maybe held some reservations about what a full-length Tornado Bait record might sound like. Let's be real, my readers are well aware that anything even remotely connected to country isn't really my jam, but if the singular creative genius that is front-woman Msesippi Mcquown Henry finds a way to translate into a recording what her and her fellows pulled off this night?
I'll be first in line with a wad of cash, ready to wear out my record player spinning these magical tunes.
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I'd heard Rick Bozart's name thrown around here and there but never actually managed to see him play until tonight. I found myself moved by his intimate song-writing, and earnest, seemingly hard won approach to performing. It's been something of a roller-coaster ride of late for this Virginia Beach native, who has been racking up notices by winning the Jesse Chong Audition back in November, picking up a spotlight on public radio through Hunter at Sunrise, and now a position on a bill at the NorVa for the forst time ever. A man who used his music to pull himself out of homelessness after a nasty car accident back in 2014 left him unable to work, Bozart's on-stage intensity is compelling. I'll be looking for him to play again soon.
Also from Virginia Beach, I found calebfolks to possess a boyish charm with his catchy, faith based alt-pop. The audience ate him up, and with this level of talent I expect he'll go far. And I'm told that the penultimate act in the line-up -- SOREN, was playing their first show this evening. Not sure where they're from -- but that's not a bad way to get out of the gate.
All in all, the evening showcased some strong musical roots in the area beyond the usual punk or metal acts. Taking some time to get to know any of this music is well worth your effort.
Dave Johnson and the Truth.
Va Beach. Blues Rock.
Tornado Bait with Unk Al.
Newport News. Alt-Rockabilly.
Virginia Beach. Singer-Songwriter.
Virginia Beach. Faith-Based Alt-Pop.
Virginia Beach? Pop-Rock.