PREVIEW: Hobo Johnson & The Lovemakers

If you don’t know who Hobo Johnson is, you’re missing out—Frank Lopes Jr., known for his stage name Hobo Johnson, has a repertoire of wacky, sometimes-political, spoken-word, hip-hop inspired music.

When I first heard Hobo Johnson’s music, it was on Twitter. A clip from his Tiny Desk Concert instantly intrigued me. It was rap, but it wasn’t—it was something that felt so raw, perfectly messy, encapsulating my frustration and amusement with the world and the lingering longing of heartbreak. I remember showing the Tiny Desk Concert to my friends. Some were into it, some didn’t like it at all. Hobo Johnson is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but its unapologetic character is what draws me so much to it.

Frank’s most recent two albums, dropped this year, have signified a change in sound and style for Hobo Johnson, a move away from melodramatic scream-singing towards more goofy punk. After recently starting his own record label, Hobo Johnson seems to be moving into a different stage of his artistic career, one focusing his angst into the politics of the music world as well as his music. 

UPDATE: Hobo Johnson & The Lovemakers were scheduled to appear at the Blind Pig on Monday, October 18th, but the show was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns.

REVIEW: Funkwagon || Sabbatical Bob || Midnight Mercedes

When COVID-19 was at its height, live music was the thing I missed maybe the most. Music, in my belief, has a special way of bringing us all together–whether it’s dancing, congregating at concerts, or just the act of sharing favorite tunes in the car or in living rooms. When live music as we knew it temporarily shut down, I found myself longing for the environments of concert halls and music venues. Listening to online performances kept spirits up, but when I got the chance to walk into the Blind Pig again this weekend, to feel the bass and drums reverberate in my body, something came alive in me again.

Even if you’re not a self-proclaimed fan of funk music, I believe there’s something for everyone to enjoy in the infectious drum beats and groovy bass lines. As my friend who attended with me admitted, “funk is sexy, in a fun way.” Music that invites your body to move, invites you to cheer. Music that commands your attention. Mixed with the transportational qualities of a nighttime neon-lit music club, I truly felt like I was elsewhere, in the space that the music created for us.

This night of funk music opened with Midnight Mercedes, a small Michigan funk band with killer vocals and a tenor saxophonist with an eye-catching light-up neck strap. The vocalist, draped in a rainbow giraffe-print dress, sang with soul and smiles, sending chills down my spine with her strong sustained notes. 

Next, we heard from Funkwagon, a gospel-infused funk band based in Detroit, MI and Burlington, VT. Lead keys giving equal energy to his vocals, splitting into ear-pleasing harmonies with the other instrumentalists. More often than not, I found myself smiling at the pure life radiating from the music on stage.

At that point, it was getting late for me, but I stayed for one of my favorite Ypsilanti-based groups, the incredible Sabbatical Bob. Describing themselves as “high-energy funk,” I was glad to hear them play after a year of witnessing their performances through a screen. While it was still great to hear them perform at events like Dance for Democracy, there is something irreplaceable about being there, about being able to feel the sound of the trumpet and sax, tearing up tunes while the audience around you bops along. 

It was an incredibly fun night out, and I encourage everyone to go out and support your local music venues and musicians. It’s been a tough year and a half for all of us, and we can all benefit from the arts. Get out there and get your groove on!

REVIEW: Cory Wong

On his latest tour, Cory Wong returned to Vulfpeck’s Ann Arbor home, playing to a sold-out crowd at The Blind Pig.

Emily C. Browning opened the stage. From New Zealand, her Spotify page says her music is intended as “an electric experience that you won’t know you were looking for until you hear it,” and that is exactly what we got. With a unique mix of jazz, soul, and funk, Emily’s style was refreshing and entertaining, and her own guitar skills were something of marvel. Starting her set with a couple covers and original songs that set the vibe for Cory Wong, his band came out and joined her for a couple more rocking songs before Cory Wong himself came onstage. The chemistry between Cory and Emily resulted in a phenomenal soundscape that had everyone swaying and jamming.

After a little break, Cory Wong and his band came back out, rocking some team athletic gear. Along with many, unbelievable guitar riffs, Cory put on a performance in between songs with a number of jokes that required crazy setups. He also emphasized his need to sell merch, playing several clips throughout the show. As the “millennial ambassador to smooth jazz,” he certainly infused an appreciation for smooth jazz and funk with his incredible songs and technique. Watching his extraordinary right hand picking technique in person was surreal, an impressive skill unrivaled by any other guitarist.

For a wonderful surprise, Vulfpeck’s singing guitarist, drummer, and syncopation master Theo Katzman joined Cory onstage for a funky collaboration. As Emily C. Browning came onstage again to close out the set with Cory, probably the best people that joined Cory’s performance were the two green inflatable tube men that summed up Cory’s personality, music, and stage presence.

The crowd was jamming the entire night, getting excited at the immense talent that Cory Wong and everyone in his band, particularly the drummer, brought to the stage. The excitement surrounding Cory Wong and his reputation as a guitarist is not one to be understated, and the electric funk energy that he brings is certainly contagious in the best of ways.

PREVIEW: Cory Wong

Vulfpeck is one of Ann Arbor’s greatest phenomena, and now, their funkiest guitarist is finding success with his solo project, the Cory Wong Band. Following the release of his latest solo album, The Optimist, Cory Wong is spreading his unique multi-instrumental rhythmic music across the country with his tour, which includes a stop at the Blind Pig on Saturday, January 19 at 9pm. Tickets are $20 and can be bought online at www.blindpigmusic.com.

REVIEW: Brett Dennen at the Blind Pig

Seeing any show at the Blind Pig, known for bringing relatively famous acts to Ann Arbor, is bound to be an experience.

Even before the opening act took the stage, the place was filled with people ranging from the minors on one side of me to the thirty/forty something couple on the other side. There were no fans running and little ventilation, so people were shedding outer layers like crazy as we waited.

Then Lily & Madeleine took the stage. As the couple next to me put it so well:

“Are they sisters?”

“I don’t know, but they’re cute as pie”

lily-madeleine

A quick Google search for this blog confirmed that they are in fact sisters hailing from Indiana, and they are definitely Midwestern–from “almost went to U of M” to writing a song about the city of Chicago.

The announcer mistakenly announced the venue as the Ark, and Lily & Madeleine’s music would have been a much better fit for that more relaxed atmosphere. I enjoyed listening to their music–I’m downloading a couple albums Flume as I write this–but the acoustic and piano-heavy set was probably not the way to go opening for Brett Dennen at the Blind Pig.

The audience was one of rudest I’ve ever experienced. As you can probably hear in this video, it was hard to hear the music over the sound of everything talking and making noise. Most people weren’t paying attention to Lily & Madeleine, and one woman next to me kept texting in a phone that was on full brightness. It would have been one thing if the music was bad, but Lily & Madeleine proved themselves to be talented artists that didn’t deserve such a treatment.

Luckily the crowd calmed down by the time Brett took the stage.

Somehow Brett Dennen turned 36 the day of the concert, even though he looks like he stopped aging after 25. Brett’s boyish looks and figure make his music all the more endearing. Switching between two acoustic guitars, his crooned slower favorites like “Ain’t No Reason” and “Where We Left Off.” For the faster numbers, he brought out the electric guitar and shredded the heck out of it.

brett-dennen-jams

The crowd sang along to hits like “Wild Child,” “Comeback Kid,” and my personal favorite “Make You Crazy.” Singers like Brett Dennen make it impossible to stand in the crowd and not shake your head or shake your hips along to the music. Performers like Brett know when to point the microphone out to the audience, when to stand at the very front of the stage and jam with his tongue out, and when to take a break and ask the audience for their birthdays.

I freely admit that I am only a casual Brett Dennen fan, but I could easily become of the devoted fans that sang along to every one of his songs at the concert if I let myself. If you get a chance to see Brett in concert, I highly recommend it.