There has been a lot of hype surrounding Hobo Johnson & The Lovemakers lately (or more specifically, just Hobo Johnson). I had never heard his music and honestly had no desire to until I saw him live. I’ve heard multiple times from friends that his concert completely changes the vibe of music and, being the live music junkie I am, I wanted to see that prior to listening to him on recordings. So, like so many other nights of my life, I wandered into Thursday night’s show blind, bright eyed and bushy tailed. I let the fact that I was clearly one of the oldest people in the nearly sold out audience roll off my back and settled into my normal spot against the wall of the beautiful Varsity Theater.
Before the sole opening act took the stage. a small screen switched from dark to light and displayed the words “Jeffrey Lewis Low Budget Films”. Although I was intrigued, the screeching girls around me had kind of lessened my bright eyed and bushy tailed-ness. Although I could feel my annoyance level growing with every passing minute, as soon as Jeffrey Lewis took the stage, I instantly fell in love with him, his music, his band– hell, even the crowd. Jeffrey is a story teller. There’s really no other way to put it. He mashes up his love for music and comic books in a hell of a way. The screen that had previous advertised his low budget films was used as a visual for the stories he was telling. With songs about everything from his neighbor who screams in the middle of the night to a short low budget documentary about famed Native American Sitting Bull, there was a sense of delight and fun throughout the audience as he played through his quick and quirky thirty minute set.
Every song was different but each one seemed to keep the story telling theme alive. Much like Hobo Johnson who would be up on stage after him, Jeffrey could connect with you in one of the most personable ways without even trying. When he spoke in-between songs it sounded like listening to your best friend telling you about his latest trials and tribulations. Open and honest was the name of the game last night and Jeffrey hit the nail on the head as far as that mentality was concerned. His music alone was more than enough to have me in love with this quirky performer and the addition of his truly spectacular comic book drawings playing behind him was just the icing on the cake.
The switch on stage between Jeffrey and headliner Hobo Johnson seemed to take forever but I think it was more the anticipation in the air rather than the actual time passing. The crowd pushed and shoved their way as close to the stage as they could get creating the sardine effect. Some people, including myself, gave up and headed towards the back while majority of the audience could be heard making friends with the strangers they were now shoulder to shoulder with. There was a sense of camaraderie between strangers as they waited out the set change which turned into an explosion of energy as soon as the musicians took the stage.
Fronted by Frank Lopes Jr. (stage name Hobo Johnson), this group has truly been making waves in the scene. Their NPR Tiny Desk Series may not have won the grand prize but it got so many people talking that it catapulted Hobo Johnson & The Lovemakers onto the national stage. As mentioned, there’s so much hype around this band that it’s almost obnoxious. What makes him so special? Why are so many people so stoked on this band? I was intrigued and as soon as the band jumped into their quick headlining set, it all made sense.
Hobo Johnson’s whole demeanor, like Jeffrey Lewis’, screamed human being and friend. There was something so honest and raw about his performance that it’s next to impossible to put into words. Although I had never heard his music before, I instantly felt connected to the words he was saying. The lyrics were all relateable either to you or the person next to you. They made you feel something and the way that Frank presented the words made you feel something. His style was somewhere between Macklemore and Modern Baseball but even that description doesn’t do him justice. The sound and the vibe was something so unique, so special, that I was definitely happy I hadn’t listened to him prior to his show. The energy around me was impossible to not get lost in. The one regret is I was unable to sing along to the words with the people around me but, that being said, it was kind of surreal to be hit with his lyrics and being present while trying to sort through the feelings that they gave me. It was line after line realness and beat after beat of heart-thumping energy. Can you tell that I kind of loved every second of it?
Hobo Johnson’s set came complete with a four minute song that was essentially just a dad joke, priceless banter between Frank and the audience, and a couch that was used by band members when they weren’t part of a certain song. Although a real performance full of raw lyrics that hit you right where it counts, there was this informality behind the show. I didn’t understand the hype before last night’s show but within just a couple of songs it all made sense.
It took a little bit but I’m officially on the Hobo Johnson & The Lovemakers train.