Live Reviews - Alexz Johnson at the Bootleg Theater


The Players: Alexz Johnson, lead vocals, guitar; Patrick Droney, guitar, backup vocals; Maxwell Butler, keyboard, backup vocals; Kyle McCammon, bass, moog, backup vocals; Garrison Johnson, drums, backup vocals.

Material: Alexz Johnson has developed a cohesive sound comprising indie rock and neo-folk elements with a rich, soulful undertone. Reminiscent of the Kills or the Black Keys, Johnson’s music possesses individuality and can contend with her contemporaries.

“Let ‘Em Eat Cake,” the title track on her album, showcases Johnson’s experience as a songwriter with its healthy injection of wah-wah echoes and a gospel inspired organ riff. The dynamics in the music parallel the emotional tone of the lyrics, which are often a rollercoaster ride of love heartbreak. It is on her slower material, like “Nothin’ On Me,” that she unleashes her high-pitched, Rod Stewart-esque rasp.

Musicianship: Johnson’s vocal control is highly commendable. She never wavers on a note, from the lower register to raspy howls. The harmonies from the other band members richen the sound, especially during the choruses. Her rhythm guitar playing is solid, which makes room for Droney to add delayed, twangy chords. Butler injects that soulful component with his keys, while McCammon and Garrison Johnson, who has impeccable time, hold down the rhythms.

Performance: Heartache lingered in the intimate room at the Bootleg as Johnson seduced the audience, always leaving them desiring more. Johnson eased into the set with a few mellow songs, replete with enchanting chords and vibrato, before grooving into “Ruthless Love,” a neo-folk tune driven by a hammered out sixteenth-note beat. By that point, the band jived and established a charismatic chemistry, but Johnson remained in command.

“Nothin’ On Me” and “Thank You for Breaking My Heart” shined the spotlight on her soulful growl, all the while Butler jazzily grooved on his organ keys.

While the band was clearly well-rehearsed, Butler and Droney could incorporate solos to enhance songs like “I Will Fall In Love” or “Heart Turns Back” and to brighten the performance altogether.

Summary: Alexz Johnson is an accomplished singer and natural songwriter. Her music appeals to a large demographic and is very radio friendly. Her upbeat songs, like “Voodoo,” catch on quickly but lack the soulful edge that makes her slower material signature and vivacious. –Vincent Stevens