Preaching to the Converted

Calvin Johnson
The Music Gallery
September 28, 2004
I don't know what's funnier: the mental image of Calvin Johnson strumming his puppy dog tunes in the guttoral surroundings of the Kathedral or Dabney Coleman's ill-faded newsroom sitcom "Mad Man of the People."

OK, one of those things is definitely NOT funny and the other didn't even happen, so it's a wash really. The Kathedral was double booked (or something) and a handfull of Toronto's flightiest were sent scrambling. Luckily, thanks to some quick thinking and a slice of kamikazee PR from the folks on the Wavelength message board, Calvin's last-minute "about face" at the Music Gallery wasn't the trainwreck it could've been. Far from it, in fact, as the 25 or so crafty souls who attended the gig were treated to a most unique viewing experience, courtesy of one of the lynchpins of the American DIY ethic.

If you have no clapping clue who Calvin Johnson is, you outta be ashamed of yourself. He was ONLY the lead singer of Beat Happening, arguably the originators of "indie rock" and a band who's irresistable take on moderate music laid the groundwork for a few really wicked bands and several thousands of really terrible ones. He's also the founder of K Records and an all-around strange cat, so it's a crying shame that this rare local appearance was tarnished by the venue mix-up.

Well, no use crying over pink milk so let's get to the review, shall we? Decked out on a ruby red fleece and pointy dress shoes, Calvinóarmed only with a accoustic guitar and his trademark frawgy croakófloated his way through a 70-minute set that leaned as heavily on annecdotes as it did on music. He wandered about the floor, looking alternately lost and profound. With his boyish good looks and childlike wonder, it's hard to believe that this was somebody that has been in the music business for over 20 years.

Sandwiched in between diatribes about agriculture, Beat Happening's "Pinebox Derby" video plus death and dying, Calvin nabbed a few gems from the back catalogue and presented 'em with a truckload of heart. "Your Asterik" from the Halo Benders (a band Calvin shares with Doug Martsch of Built to Spill), "Teenage Timebomb" from his Dub Narcotic Sound System and an extended run through his solo stalwart "What Was Me"Ö all served with a weirdo shyfolk marinade. To see the bide stripped bare was a spectacle. To see the bride stripped bare in a goddam church was a total gawk-fest 5000 (note: the Music Gallery is a church, lady).

After finally cutting off "What Was Me" with a final few plucks, Calvin made a beeline to his merch table in order to hawk 20 plus years of underground artifacts. He chatted with fans, posed for pictures and even fired up some tunes on his boombox, wrapping the evening in a prefab punk blanky.

Writer: Cameron Gordon

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