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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Live Show Review: Missing Cats featuring JoJo Hermann


If you’ve lived in Athens, Georgia anytime since 1986, (unless you have been living under a rock) you should be aware of the mega-fandom and praise that comes along with jam band, Widespread Panic.  These guys are Athens’ darlings.  They released their 10th studio album in February of this year entitled Free Somehow, and they were also inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame this month.  With all of this success, you would think the men that make up WP would have no time for anything else, let alone a side project.  Enter Missing Cats, a.k.a. Widespread’s JoJo Hermann and New York City’s Sherman Ewing.

The two made a typical Friday night in Athens into one blues-inspired boogie-woogie romp that takes you dangerously close to the streets of New Orleans
 But before the 50+ audience was introduced to the boogie-fueled musings of Missing Cats, the night was cut into three’s, leaving the Cats to perform in the latter part of the evening. 

After Ewing wrapped up his opening acoustic set, Hermann, donning a baseball cap, a black button-up shirt and some white Chuck Taylor’s made his way to his acoustic upright piano and introduced the crowd to his extensive solos and catchy melodies. 

Though Hermann’s voice isn’t what you would call effortless or pure, the rough edges that mark his vocals extend a hand that is cracked and rugged, something like Bob Dylan during his days recording with The Band. 

There is a certain harmony caught between the upbeat boogie-woogie of the piano and the effortless growls that result from Hermann’s voice. 
It’s easy to forget that even though he is a vocalist, he’s spent the bulk of his music career behind a keyboard.  And though he may have contributed to Widespread’s backing vocals on occasion, at the core is an instrumentalist just waiting to get his chance to prove the full extent of his musical abilities.  Hermann’s solo venture has sparked the opportunity for this chance, and you can tell by the sound that results—JoJo Hermann’s got soul and he’s not afraid to use it. 

And the fans were well aware of this.  With audience members ranging from 18 to 58, the crowd was a mix of new and old Widespread Panic fans, with, maybe, a select few who were solely there for the Missing Cats, or Ewing himself.  Whatever the case, Hermann was aware of the drastic differences in age saying at one point during his solo set,
“I feel like Jimmy Stewart on the Carson Show.  I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about.  You’re probably thinking ‘Is that a poem?’”

So, he’s got a sense of humor.  That’s good, because the crowd was full of humor (and booze might I add).  From drunkenly slapping the stage in excitement to rolling around on what looked like a large suitcase with wheels, the fans were exceptionally enthusiastic.

After an almost 30 minute break between sets, Hermann came back to the stage, accompanied by his Missing Cats counterpart, Sherman Ewing, who sported a gray CBGB shirt underneath an open silk button-up.

Ewing carried his acoustic guitar to a chair positioned to the left of the stage while Hermann sat back down in front of his piano, with a glass of red wine nearby.  So began a 30 to 45 minute set of hand-clapping boogie-blues, and acoustic guitar ballads that proved to be the highlight of the duo’s songs. 

Ewing’s sweet vocals were a nice contrast to Hermann’s growl, and when lyrics like “You walk or they walk on you” flowed in a perfect pitch through the Melting Point’s auditorium, it was hard not to feel the emotion behind the words.  New York City must be full of the blues.

For the un-trained blues/boogie-woogie ear, many of the up-tempo performances could sound like a 15 minute mash-up of the same song.  What saved many of these songs were the piano solos which set each performance apart. 

The Missing Cats performance was entertaining.  They showed the crowd a good time, and when the duo finished up their final song, you could hear the disappointment in the fan’s scattered yells.  I expected much of the disappointment came from the fact that Hermann refrained from playing any of WP's songs.  But hope was not all lost.

After a much shorter break, the glossy-eyed crowd erupted in cheers when Hermann and Ewing came back to the stage. 

With the roles reversed, Hermann taking hold of the guitar and Ewing contributing backing vocals, Hermann said, “Time to get real for a second.” And off they went into a stripped acoustic version of “Visiting Day,” one of Widespread Panic’s original tunes. 

The crowd went wild.  They were singing along and cheering louder than they had all night.  My guess was, this is what they’d been waiting for all night. 

After the show I talked to Amber Anderson, a graduate student at the University of Georgia who is studying special education, she explained, confirming my assumptions, that her favorite part of the performance was the Widespread song.  Though, she also noted that she was happy to see JoJo perform solo.  She hadn’t been to a Widespread Panic show in a few years.  When I asked her how long she’d been a fan of the group she told me that in the eight years since her fandom began, she has seen the guys perform 75 different times.  I learned later, fans like Amber are referred to as Spreadheads or as the good folks of the South say, Spreadnecks.  I prefer the latter.  You gotta’ love the South!

- Jessica Cole 

Currently Listening to:  "The Man with the Big Sombrero" by Samantha Shelton and Michael Andrew

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