Sunday, May 29, 2011


Last night, I was fortunate enough to see Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit at the Bowery Ballroom. The show started at 9, with the first opening act, James Mathé, making an appearance. He was one of the best openers I’ve ever seen. He was nothing like you would expect him to be, given that he’s a member of the Sussex Wit. It was a glorious combination of atmospheric/experimental funk and soul that instantly got my complete and undivided attention. He sadly only played five songs, but that was all I needed. Caitlin Rose was the next one up, and I can’t say I liked them. Caitlin Rose herself was funny and between every song spoke to the audience with distasteful charming sass, like after a few audience quips asking "Are you flirting with me?", but they were a country band. If you like country, you would have loved them, but for me they just played about five songs too many. Johnny and his crew came on to set up and tune, and then at a little past 11 they finally came on. They opened with “The Box”, and it was a perfect opener. It’s a song so filled with life and quirk that hearing the full band do it was marvelous. They plowed through “Cold Bread”, so much so that Johnny broke a string on his mandolin, leaving it up to James Mathé to make awkward, but endearing, small talk with the audience. Instead of a trumpet for “Kentucky Pill”, Lillie Flynn played flute, which made it wonderfully bouncy. It was nice and bright, moving the whole crowd sing along. They then played a gorgeous three-song arc of “The Wrote and the Writ”, “Lost and Found”, and “Brown Trout Blues”, all of which reduced the crowd to utter silence. “Hong Kong Cemetery” was done better than the album, with Johnny rotating between trumpet and guitar. They were so good at conveying the melancholy tone, especially with everyone shouting “I’m alright! I’m alright!” over the somber trumpet. The bright middle was made especially bouncy, contrasting nicely with the previous section. “Barnacled Warship” was my favorite performance. Johnny played his violin as he sang, and the whole venue was crooning “I’ll just eat fruit on your doorstep, I’ll just drink pail-fulls of rain” right along with him. You could tell the whole band enjoyed playing it, and that really resonated with me. He informed the audience early on that he was hoarse, and that created an interesting effect on “Churlish May” when he missed a whole verse due to coughing: “I don’t know what happened there!” On the second time around, they still played it brilliantly. “The Water” was one of my favorite performances. “I’m going to play a duet with my sister Lillie”, he said, as they moved next to each other. Don’t tell Laura Marling, but Lillie’s voice is absolutely stunning and, coupled with Johnny’s, was too beautiful for words. As you know, “Been Listening” contains many pauses during the chorus that are just asking to be taken advantage of by the audience. For every single pause, the crowd would scream “Awwww yeah!” or “I love you Johnny Flynn”, and other chuckle causing heckles, which you could see the awkwardness building up in his face while he too was stifling laughter. “Eyeless in Holloway” and “Tickle Me Pink” closed the set with everyone singing their hearts out, moving about, and thunderously clapping in unison. I couldn’t wait for the encore, and boy did they impress: Johnny and Lillie came out and told us that they hadn’t practiced this one or planned to play it, but felt inspired to do so. They played a beautiful rendition of “Amazon Love”, and because I was about three feet away from them, I could see how happy they were to be playing with each other and the look of complete sibling love on their faces. “Leftovers” ended the show flawlessly, with everyone once again stomping right along with the band and chanting “Leftovers is what I want, don’t need no fine cuisine!”

I was thoroughly impressed by this show. The Bowery Ballroom was so intimate, that I felt like a huge connection with the music and the band. I can’t imagine how I could ever feel that at a large venue: it was more of an experience than a show. Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit deliver live. Almost every song was performed better than the album version, and songs like “The Water” and “Barnacled Warship” really made it, as he put it “special”. If you get the chance to, go see him. You will leave more than satisfied with your experience, and I can safely say, it was beyond worth the price of admission. I will never know why more people don’t know about him.

“I probably should prepare something for moments like this, like a funny anecdote about the tour, but I haven’t got any.”-James Mathé, before “Kentucky Pill"


The Box
Cold Bread
Kentucky Pill
The Wrote and the Writ
Lost and Found
Brown Trout Blues
Hong Kong Cemetery
Barnacled Warship
Churlish May
The Water
Been Listening
Eyeless in Holloway
Tickle Me Pink

Amazon Love

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