The night began with an a cappella performance by EPrhyme.
On account of observing Shabbat, he forfeited the use of a P.A. system or electronics. Instead he was accompanied by a hype man, of sorts, that worked the crowd--or at least tried to, with partial success. EPrhyme's hype man got people into some claps and call-and-responses, but none seemed to last an entire song and the crowd's enthusiasm underwhelmed. A few songs in, I heard what could only be the bassy growl of Calvin Johnson's voice behind me responding to the hype man's call and responses. It seems as if Johnson had appeared on the stairs of the loft-space to provide some emergency enthusiasm. Pretty damn nice of him, actually.
Ultimately, I regretted that my first exposure to EPrhyme's music was under these a cappella circumstances. While Calvin Johnson can mesmerize a crowd with or without electronic amplification, the extent of which we'll get to in a bit, EPrhyme just didn't seem to be at that stage of his artistic life yet. He still did an amazing job, considering the circumstances, I can't say EPrhyme fully pulled off the a cappella hip hop.
Girls In Trouble followed.
The third performer and obvious show-stealer, was Ian Svenonius' most-recent musical project, Chain and the Gang.
The band's brand of "liberation theology" seemed to bring together Svenonius' unique quasi-political neo-gospel (Chain) and a 1960s, Detroit garage band throwback to MC5 or Iggy & the Stooges (the Gang). Just see for yourself in this explosive video of the aptly-titled song "Trash Talk":
Finally, the man of the hour himself, Calvin Johnson, took the stage.
...Or at least, he stood on the un-used speaker cabinet that served as a stage.
Johnson played the set in the mode of his most recent, solo Calvin Johnson record What Was Me. He also seemed to be channeling some sort of Buddy Holly vibe in his appearance (and even name-dropped the guy in one of his song-introductions.) His set consisted of mostly Calvin Johnson & Sons of the Soil, Halo Benders, and What Was Me songs. Such as these two, from the Halo Bender's second album Rebels Not In and What Was Me, respectively:
Calvin Johnson - "Love Travels Faster" (*originally recorded with Halo Benders)
During one part of the show, an audience member joined him for an a cappella duet version of "Ode to St. Valentine," on account of the holiday coming up on Monday. You can check that out here in this video someone other than me recorded from a much better spot in the room:
This show could've easily been at Bowery Ballroom or some other conventional, larger indie venue. Considering Johnson's cult-legend status, it probably could've sold out or at least filled up the Bowery Ballroom. Instead, it made you feel like a group of friends you know just getting together and playing a few of their songs for you in their living room. Mostly because it was a group of highly intimate, personal performers playing in a living room--albeit a very, very, tightly packed one that charged $7 at the door.