A B.A. Johnston performance has very little to do with music; it’s a booze-soaked whirlwind of sad-sack ditties interrupted by moderate acts of destruction.
The songs penned by Johnston chronicle the mundane rituals of this self-proclaimed “slacker hero,” and are paired with a level of irreverent self-deprecation that is only matched by his scathing indictments of the audience drinking it up.
J.R. Hill and the Magic Bears opened the evening on a more upbeat, poppy note. Their offering of well-crafted songs with surprising melodic twists inspired a fair amount of bouncing and bobbing in the audience. If you’re into the cassette-resurrection movement, humble banter, and understated talent, make a point of seeking them out around town – you won’t be disappointed.
Boats were fast out of the gate with an energetic burst of noise before coasting into a poppy swell mid-set, and were gladly prompted to finish on a more frenetic note.
After a brief soundcheck to the tune of “mock chicken, check, one, two, mock chicken,” Johnston took to the stage and fell right into lambasting the audience: “Don’t judge me, fuckers, I know where you live.”
His irreverent barbs were mostly met with open-mouthed laughter and willing audience participation, much to his own amusement (or disgust?).
Johnston spent more time in the crowd than on stage, where he would occasionally return to reset the atmosphere of spit, beer, and disdain before launching into another round of hijinks loosely based in song.
“That was a test to see what kind of shitty songs you [would] put up with,” he declared at one such interval, returning to the stage to check on his guitar or old discman that he referred to as “my iPhone 5.”
Trailing an impossibly long mic cable and barrelling through the audience, he was met with surprisingly little resistance – even as he grabbed a bottle of liquor from behind the bar and poured it down his throat.
One audience member did confront him and unplug his mic during the final song (featuring casual references to date rape), a refreshingly gutsy move.
Just below the trashy veneer of the anti-hero performance, there are elements of Johnston’s lyrics that could hint at the kind of comedy that illuminates the darker, more desperate parts of life: reliance on GST cheques and McDonald’s coupons, and cats that eat better than he does.
But as the revellers cheer under a shower of B.A.’s beer spray, I wonder, are they in on the joke?