JD McPherson, First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN, 11/29/12

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For his third foray into the Twin Cities in five months (!), the pride of Broken Arrow, OK brought his retro rockabilly show to Minneapolis’ premier downtown night club. JD McPherson is a throwback to the early 50’s, his songs reflecting his many influences from that era, including Fats Domino, Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Bo Diddley. Relentless touring behind his only major label (Rounder) release, “Signs & Signifiers” has paid off, as he played to a nearly sold-out, enthusiastic crowd on a mid-week date late last month.

Back in June, when he debuted at the Fine Line Music Cafe, JD was breaking in both sax and keyboard players, and both seemed understandably tentative at times. By now, however, both sidemen (regrettably, unnamed) have dozens of gigs under their belts and the entire combo – including doghouse bass player, singer, producer and collaborator Jimmy Sutton, and drummer Alex Hall – click along like a well-oiled machine.

Opening with the smoothly-rocking “Dimes For Nickels,” JD quickly diverted the spotlight away from himself and onto the rest of the band for “You’ve Got To Lose.” Jimmy Sutton slapped the upright bass with a flourish, the keyboard player pounded the 88’s like a latter day Jerry Lee Lewis, and the sax man offered his own tasty solo. Sutton introduced “Country Boy,” with more windmill turns on the bass, a la Pete Townshend and the set list moved smoothly along through “I Can’t Complain,” “Signs & Signifiers,” and “Your Love (All That I’m Missing),” a bouncy 50’s tune that JD introduced as “the Everly Brothers meet The Smiths.” JD chooses his covers carefully, resurrecting the early 60’s chestnut “Farmer John,” originally recorded by The Premieres. Once again, the piano solo was exceptional.

There were a couple of new recordings on the set list, not on the S & S CD. He recently put out a 7″ vinyl 45 of “North Side Gal,” the first single off the CD, but on this night he also played the “B” side, “Abigail Blue,” another catchy rockabilly number. And, just in time for the holidays, JD recorded a rockin’ new Christmas song, “Twinkle Little Christmas Lights.”

By the time he closed the set with “North Side Gal” and “Wolf Teeth,” the floor was churning with moving bodies, like bees in a hive. The encore was a generous four-song mini-set, pushing the entire show nearly to two hours. In a way, it was unfortunate that the house was as packed as it was; this would have been the perfect band for the swing dancers to show off their moves. Maybe next time he’ll come to a ballroom somewhere nearby, for one big swinging sock hop. Then we’d all be “Scratchin’ Circles on the Old Dance Floor.”

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