Johnny A Rocks Phoenix

by Kevin Wierzbicki

The Music Theater at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix was sold out for the Johnny A concert on Jan. 11, and Johnny did not disappoint as he presented a set where he played cover versions of 15 familiar songs. Johnny is currently on his Just Me and My Guitars tour, and true to the event's name the stage was barren except for Johnny, his guitars and a small selection of electronic equipment that he used to create loops to back up his guitar work.

Currently Johnny A performs strictly as an instrumentalist. He used to sing, but during his seven-year stint with former J. Geils Band singer Peter Wolf he endured an extreme case of laryngitis and his singing voice never fully recovered. Explaining that the songs he'd play for the evening were favorites that had influenced his style over the years, Johnny put his own spin on well-known songs and hits, many from the days of the British Invasion. The first half of the show featured the Badfinger hit "Day After Day," "Bus Stop" by the Hollies, Rolling Stones biggie "Play with Fire" and the oft-covered chestnut "Fever." For "Play with Fire" Johnny gave the audience a chance to guess who played bass on the original recording; when revealing the answer to be Phil Spector he quipped "Yeah he really murdered it," inducing groans and giggles. Johnny peppered his performance with lots of similarly warm and humorous commentary, at one point "introducing the band," which was simply the two guitars he played throughout the evening. Named after the color of their respective bodies, "the band" consisted of "Whitey" and "Mr. Gold." Moving a bit beyond the British Invasion material, Johnny also played Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues," "Nights in White Satin" by the Moody Blues (giving a shout-out to Bettye Lavette's version while he was at it) and the Left Banke's "Walk Away Renee."

The second half of the show kicked off with a tribute to the Beatles, including a funny story about how Johnny had been kicked out of school for showing up with a John Lennon-style haircut. The story put the crowd into a great mood for what was to follow; a chance to sing along to some Beatles cuts. Many had probably been singing along in their heads as Johnny played songs that resonated with them; now it was time to let it fly out loud. The three-song Beatles mini-set was highlighted by an amazing take on "Strawberry Fields Forever," complete with all the psychedelics, and including a brief nod to the George Harrison-penned "Within You Without You." "Strawberry Fields" was bookended by "I'll Follow the Sun" and "Ticket to Ride;" it didn't matter that the audience was greatly off-key as they had fun with the sing along.

After the Beatles segment Johnny played Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" and then finished the concert with a medley of "Can't Find My Way Home" (Blind Faith), "To Love Somebody" (Bee Gees), a rowdy "Kashmir" (Led Zeppelin) and finally another nod to the Stones with "Gimme Shelter."

Some of the shows coming to the Musical Instrument Museum include:

Jan. 21 - Steve Gadd Band (7 and 9 PM)
Jan. 29 - Vieux Farka Toure
Feb. 6 - Khani Cole
Feb. 7 & 8 - Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Feb. 9 & 10 - Leo Kottke
Feb. 13 - Lloyd Cole
Feb. 14 & 15 - Hot Tuna (Acoustic)

For a complete list of shows coming to MIM go here

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