Johnny Dowd Band at the Cluny, Newcastle
Johnny Dowd Band
The Cluny II, Newcastle
Thursday 24th May
Following a set that included The Hills Are Alive (With the Sound of Music) from the female Avant-Gardes duo Rayvon Browne; who play a National Steel ukulele, Gretsch semi-acoustic and keyboards; the Johnny Dowd band nonchalantly strolled onto the stage with no introduction before effortlessly easing into an atmospheric aural landscape of lo-fi noises from Dowd’s guitar, a tiny set of drums and a combination of three sets of keyboards.
Just as the band was getting into a groove there was a kafuffle at the rear of the hall. For those of you who have never visited Newcastle, Jumping Hot gigs at The Cluny are noted for attracting a politely mature audience, so I immediately ruled out a fight but it was only when the house lights went up that I realised someone had actually collapsed. The show was stopped and the hall immediately emptied as prompt medical action was taken. After about 30 minutes the chap in question was last seen being taken out of the Cluny to an ambulance; profusely apologizing to Johnny Dowd for spoiling the singers’ night!
But the show must go on; and it did.
As the audience filtered back in; the band cranked up the diluted atmosphere with an outrageous version of Green Onions that came straight out of leftfield.
Never straying from that Leftfield position all night; it was back to what the fanatics in the crowd wanted – weird and wonderful songs that didn’t necessarily make sense; but as sure as Hell were entertaining.
I only own one Dowd album and didn’t recognise anything from it tonight; but that’s not to say they weren’t in the mix somewhere; as the Johnny Dowd Band are notorious for changing songs around until they are virtually unrecognizable.
How do you describe Johnny Dowd’s music to the uninitiated? Take the bus to Zappaville; turn left at Beefheart, then carry on to Eno & Morricone and when you see the Handsome Family cowering in the corner you have arrived.
It’s only when you see Johnny Dowd play live you realize that he doesn’t use a voice de-coder. That really is him making those noises; which is quite scary. Dowd’s guitar playing was both spectacular and under-stated while the guy hunched over two different keyboards had a wild look in his eyes as he teased notes and noises out of them at will, while the drummer drummed with one hand and he played a synthesizer with the other.
Most songs received an introduction but the singers’ strong Texas accent made most indecipherable, although his rye sense of humour occasionally shone through like when he described Miranda as being about the time ‘he bought flowers for a girlfriend’ or The Queen of Rat City being an ‘Ode to Rock and Roll’ – check out their lyrics to see what I mean.
Obviously Johnny Dowd is going to be an acquired taste, but even if you only go to see him out of curiosity you will see one of Rock and Americana’s last true eccentrics who should be congratulated for treading the path less worn with such style.