Around the time JD McPherson's first album "Signs & Signifiers" was getting a wide release on Rounder Records, in 2012, I recommended it to a friend. "Pretty good, but seems like a gimmick," was his take.
Six years and two subsequent albums later, McPherson has demonstrated that what he's doing is anything but a gimmick. He's graduated from tiny bars to mid-sized clubs, and from a beater van to the tour bus parked outside Gateway City Arts in Holyoke Thursday night, when McPherson and his band ripped through 80 minutes of high-energy rock 'n' roll with a vintage twist.
McPherson tours hard, and all that time on the road has honed the band into a supremely tight crew onstage. The musicians just seemed to wind up and let loose, and McPherson is as fiery and amped up while he sings and peels off monster solos as bassist Jimmy Sutton is cool and collected while he holds the entire groove in a deep pocket of his own making.
Initially, I didn't like last year's "Undivided Heart and Soul" as much as "Signs & Signifiers" (which I wrote about for Rolling Stone) or 2015's "Let the Good Times Roll" (which I reviewed for Paste), but songs from all three blended well live. McPherson introduced "Under the Spell of City Lights" as a song combining Eddie Cochran and Joan Jett, and he and the band rolled through "Fire Bug," "Crying's Just a Thing That You Do," "On the Lips" and "Head Over Heels" as if they were of a piece. Which they are: McPherson's modern take on a classic sound is what threads them together, and his commitment to putting on a great show, and his obvious passion for what he's doing, bring them alive.