Jamey Johnson at House of Blues, 4/3/2014
Can you sing along to "The Yellow Rose of Texas"?
Don't be silly; of course you can. Right? But try it, and it's tougher than you think.
Jamey Johnson knows the words, as well as those "O Susannah," which is of similar vintage and perhaps even closer to the Alabama-born singer's heart. But Thursday's show at House of Blues, which spanned 25 songs over more than two hours, was no history lesson. It could have been louder at first and was a little slow to get going, but soon enough it became raw, potent and vital, a welcome reminder of just how restorative country music can be at times, even if the song happens to be Bob Seger's "Turn the Page."
By the time it was over, Johnson and his band had outlasted about half of the original crowd that had the downtown music hall mostly full and very much in a mood to commune. The singer told his audience about a half-hour into the show, "we're just going to drift along...if you have a request, keep it to yourself." Naturally that didn't prevent the fans, few of whom were without 16-ounce aluminum cans or plastic cups with plastic straws, from yelling out their choices anyway.
Of course House of Blues crowds are notorious for their inconsiderate behavior, but not this one. The show started with most of the predominantly male crowd yelling the lyrics of Johnson's "The High Cost of Living" right back to him (boy, they loved the "I traded it for cocaine and a whore" line), as they did on "That Lonesome Song" and really did on "In Color" some time later and on "Give It Away" much, much later. Quite a few people had left by then, but the ones who stayed sang with the conviction of people who had been in front of a judge a time or two.
It was a honky-tonk show all right, with an audience so ready to blow off steam you could almost see the pressure gauges in their eyes. There was plenty of talking and an audible buzz in the room all night, but not even in a disrespectful way. Johnson and the boys made it fairly obvious they were going to keep playing whether the crowd was paying attention or not, but it was a moot point because most of the music was so compelling. It was fascinating how the crowd noise sometimes get submerged by the music -- the harmonica solo during Merle Haggard's "Misery and Gin" stands out -- or would turn into singing along on a dime, almost like the tide going out. Really something.
Review continues on the next page.