Friday, April 1, 2011

Nicholas Barron, Freedy Johnston
play at Indy Acoustic Cafe Series

Last Saturday's Indy Acoustic Cafe Series concert brought singer-songwriters Nicholas Barron and Freedy Johnston to the stage at the Wheeler Arts Community Center in the Fountain Square cultural district of Indianapolis. Both delivered solid performances and delighted the turnout with their song composition anecdotes.

Before playing a note, Barron (above), of Chicago, warned anybody who would be seeing him for the first time that he's known for his constant movement and gyrations during his shows. He most certainly was all of that, injecting powerful emotion into his husky-voiced delivery and when hitting those high notes. In addition to performing mostly original compositions, Barron did a rhythmic rendition of Leonard Cohen's much-covered "Halleluja," as well as a classic blues tune, which he performed when I was low and camped out at stage right, a favorite vantage point of mine at the Wheeler's spartan, but cozy theater. That corner allows me to enjoy a blackened background, as stage lighting does some delicate highlighting of facial and instrumental features -- a most dynamic treatment. Barron also injected periodic oral percussives -- essentially, they're "cluck" sounds with the tongue and an open mouth (one instance pictured below) -- into his tunes.

After intermission, Freedy Johnston took the stage. I most remember Johnston for his 1990s hits "Bad Reputation" (covered by Death Cab for Cutie and Seven Mary Three) and "On the Way Out" (and actually have the latter on a 1990s CD song mix I burned several years ago). During lulls between songs, Freedy would set up the next number and simultaneously fine-tune the strings on the instruments he played  -- acoustic and electric guitars and a ukulele. His composition anecdotes were memorable; for example, a 4-year-old girl's quarter-note-off tuning of a string on a guitar that Johnston had handed to her evolved into his "Rain on the City," title track of his current CD, which Johnston played Saturday. Another song, composed in conjunction with the Hobart Brothers and Lil' Sis Hobart -- a side project he is exploring with John Dee Graham and Susan Cowsill (yes, of the 1960s pop group the Cowsills) -- originated from a casual sitdown and give-and-take out West one evening.

The Hobarts have recorded material for an album, he said, but they need financial help -- the industry isn't what it used to be, he explained -- and asked members of the audience, quite seriously, to consider contributing to the cost of what it will take for the Hobarts to master, produce, promote, publicize and pay for artwork for the album by making a donation at the website, a site for, well, artists trying to kick-start a project and don't have the financial means. A check at the website shows that the Hobarts will proceed with the project only if they can raise $10,000 by April 8; as of Saturday morning, April 2, they had received 107 pledges totaling $8,274. Johnston didn't play "On the Way Out" at Saturday's show, but he did end his set with a very nice rendition of the 1982 Marshall Crenshaw hit "Someday, Someway."

The final show on the Indy Acoustic Cafe's spring series is April 16, when Brooks Williams and Amy Speace are scheduled to perform. The Series will resume in October, and Series director Mark Butterfield says fall dates include John Gorka, Nils Lofgren (longtime member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and former member of Neil Young's Crazy Horse) and Sophie B. Hawkins, among others.

To see full galleries from their shows, follow these links: Nicholas Barron -- Freedy Johnston.

Above: Barron in mid- "cluck," executing one of his oral percussives.


Above and below: I amused myself between acts by attempting still lifes of some drinks a few people in the audience parked on the stage while they left their seats to stretch. The stage seemed the safest place for the cups; it was either that or the floor, as the seats at the Wheeler have no cup holders.

Above and the rest below: Freedy Johnston's turn on the stage.

Above: On electric guitar.

Above: On acoustic guitar.

Above: On ukulele.

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