I promise to see more shows this year. I'm even buying advanced tickets again! Alas, scheduling conflicts and work demands forced me to miss a couple of enticing gigs earlier this year, but the irresistible combination of Eric D. Johnson (ex-Fruit Bats) and the Chapel finally forced me out of the apartment.
Eric D. Johnson, the Chapel, February 18, 2015: If you've spent a decent amount of time with me, particularly in Los Angeles or New York, you know I'm alarmingly adept at spotting semi-famous faces. For example, some friends still laugh at the time I recognized the author Rick Moody at a Wilco show (granted, in San Diego, but close enough). Hey, sorry for paying attention to dust jacket photos! Anyway, I bring this up because earlier that week I had noticed Eric himself on Clement Avenue, which happens to be my stomping grounds. It probably helped that he was wearing a hat with his own logo, but I can't lie -- it's my weird talent (?) too.
I probably shouldn't have been too surprised, as Eric has a history in San Francisco, including long-standing friendships with local acts. Heck, the last time I saw him in concert was at the Robyn Hitchcock birthday gig, his Instagram shows a lot of shots taken in the North Bay, and he even shared a story of the Fruit Bats' first gig in San Francisco at Bottom of the Hill, many years ago. As he explained it, local favorites Court & Spark opened, and the majority of the audience left at the end of their set. Thus, Fruit Bats played to a handful of friends, and Eric fell off the stage. I had to wonder if I was there?* As I've mentioned at every chance I get, I was at a Fruit Bats gig in San Francisco in 2003, and they pulled off an unforgettable cover of "Purple Rain." Hell, I'll include the pic again.
The Fruit Bats have, of course, disbanded, and Eric now goes by EDJ, which sounds rather close to EDM. I won't belabor the comparison, but you could argue the new solo arrangement might have more electronic touches. That is, Eric is by himself onstage, playing guitar, keyboard, and harmonica, but aided by loopers and prerecorded backing tracks. Don't worry, though -- it's the same folky psych rock you've come to know and love from EDJ.
When I listen to Fruit Bats, I can be lulled into a blissful state by Eric's silky vocals and the unhurried pace of the songs. Thus, I'm kind of surprised when I see them/him in concert and realize how rocking they can be. Eric didn't hold back, pounding on the keys and thrashing away enough on the guitar that he broke a string at one point.
I can't comment on the new solo tracks, but Fruit Bats faithful may be pleased to hear that Eric did two old songs. The first was "Dolly," and it moved the indie audience to dance around -- even the hipsters you'd never expect to show any emotion. The second title was the closer and crowd pleaser, "When You Love Somebody." You can rest assured we all jumped around for that one.
I can't not talk about Eric's voice at any show, and this gig is no exception. He's probably the closest to a crooner among the musicians I like, and I would pay good money to hear him cover George Jones. In fact, I regularly cycle through a handful of Fruit Bats covers on my iPhone. As long as those pipes are intact, I'll continue to find my way to his gigs, whether or not I know what he plans to pay. What are the chances he'll do "Purple Rain" again?
* At the end of the gig, Eric promised to come out into the crowd and mingle, and I could've easily confirmed my suspicions about that Bottom of the Hill appearance. Alas, I didn't stick around for long after the show, as I had just enough time to catch the bus home, and you DO NOT pass up an on-schedule 33 Stanyan late at night.
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