The only thing that I am sure about B.A. Johnston is that he is a comedian of such awesome destructive force, he must have been sent by a demon to usher in the apocalypse (who would have thought the rapture would come from Hamilton, Ontario!). The good thing, though, is that B.A. uses his demon quite well.
If you have a chance to catch him while you can, you should, for I fear for B.A.’s health- especially after the first time I saw B.A Johnston, covered in beer, rolling over a Green Room table, knocking over abandoned bottles with his naked chest, all the while wearing a sailor’s hat. Perhaps it was a nod to all the dead cruise ship crooners who went down with the ship! The whole experience, I found traumatizing but extremely exhilarating- kind of like karaoke during an epileptic attack.
I had a sneaking suspicion that even if I tried to stay away, the universe would scheme and bring us together again! I would find him, naked, scared, perhaps on stage crying alone, opening for my favorite band. I was drawn instantly to his performing style, one that involved a kind of wretchedness you don’t normally see in performers these days, singing while swirling a mike around, drenched in sweat while dancing to automatic Casio beats, the kind of spectacle only B.A. Johnston can bring to a live audience. And the man knows how to use a Casio keyboard! He also plays some wicked punk acoustic, making some of the most innovative crooner rock since Pat Boone’s In a metal mood: No More Mister Nice guy!
But where were the crowds?
After the show he told me, “I don’t know why, but I just can’t seem to get the crowd out in Montreal?”
Maybe it was the time of year? It was last October and a very cold evening. A crowd of 5 people showed up – The opening band – I can’t even remember their name? didn’t even stay to watch the show. He made the audience move to the back tables because of flying spit and perspiration. It was however, an intimate evening; one involving his famous snot-rocket routine, along with the usual suspects: blood, sweat and vomit. Also there appeared to be a ritual involving human hair (it is possible I was inebriated at the time and may imagined this last act. However, the terror was very real, I was terrified that I would be cut by flying glass!).
Since his last performance in Montreal, the crowds have been turning out. Just the other night, he played to a full house at Casa Del Popolo with The Burning Hell. Unbelievably, in Montreal, an audience came out to support the crooner! During the show he has the crowd captivated, but its only a matter of time before the performance breakdown. This includes verbal and sweat laced assaults on the front row that become just plane nasty when he turns his attention to two dreadlock guys. But later he redeems himself when he plays his “famous” bathroom encore, of You Will Miss Me When the Zombies Come. This after the crowd actually chants for more!
The question lingers in my head, are people starting to “get” B.A.? The fans seem to come out and enjoy themselves. Although a few are complaining about the fountain of spit B.A. is able to produce that drenches the front (Let this be a lesson to those that go in the front row-remember the Blue Man Group, they almost killed a friend of mine!).
I think the crowd was moved by his music which deals with nostalgic longing and the inevitable transition to adulthood – it is something very close to heart for audiences of children trapped in adult bodies. The simple guitar and minimalist sounds on his last album Stairway to Hamilton are not “masterpieces” but they certainly are catchy ditties that mix the fun of childhood with the failures and disappointments of being an adult. He deals with important adult subject-matter, like sleeping next to a deep fryer, lacking basic job-skills or trying to outlast a very alert cock-blocking roommate at 3 am, songs we can all really relate to.
So maybe the “lazy fat chud” (as he calls himself on his website) can show us a thing about the dark side of adulthood all the while letting our inner child have a good time. Please go see B.A. Johnston before he accidentally cuts himself with a beer bottle and retires, you might actually be entertained and besides, the man needs a crowd!
Check out Fantasy life and NBA Jam on his latest album Thank you for being a friend or visit his MySpace, CBC3 page or official website.
Also check out Cassie Doubleday’s full review of B.A. Johnston and Burning Hell @ Casa here