What kind of musician lists both Metallica and Bach among his early influences?
For that matter, what kind of a musician rolls a 450-pound upright piano onto the streets of Spokane and starts plunking away?
At the moment, Dax Johnson is the only one who comes to mind. A 22-year-old Spokane man with a triple helping of raw talent and a flair for the free spirit, Johnson is a pianist who has worked his way from sidewalk shows to a featured performance at Auntie’s Bookstore Saturday night. He’ll be joined by one of Spokane’s premier visual artists for what will be a multi-media performance.
Johnson will also be releasing his first CD, a impressive collection of his solo keyboard creations titled “Sleeping Sisera.”
Not bad for a guy who’s never taken a piano lesson.
Johnson began playing piano at age 2 but never learned to read music. He took a music theory class but flunked it.
“If I wanted to play a song I just listened to it and played it,” he says. “I just understand it.”
A couple of years ago, Johnson took his music to the streets. Literally. Setting up on sidewalks around the Northwest, he performed his creations for spare change.
“It was such an awesome time of my life,” he says. “It was just fun and I made so much money doing that.”
But after a year, he decided to take his act indoors. “I’m doing the same thing in a classier way,” he says. He now performs each Saturday evening at Frescos in the Franklin Park Mall.
Johnson plays what he calls neo-classical music, but utter the name Yanni and watch him start to squirm like a slug in a shower of salt.
“I don’t identify with Yanni and I don’t identify with John Tesh,” he says with a good-natured grumble.
Sure, Johnson’s piano work is somewhere in the vein of Yaaaaawni, but it’s not such over-produced, ultra-dramatic fare. It’s darker, moodier, purer; it’s steeped in the aura of days spent listening to Metallica. And in truth, Johnson looks like he’d fit in far better with a group of rockers than the followers of the Mustachioed One.
His CD is broodingly beautiful - from the deep rumbling emotions of “Beloved” to the gripping sentiments of “Merciful Dwelling” and “Drylines.”
“I’m inspired by sadness,” Johnson says with a smile. “It sucks, but it’s true.”
But while many of his songs are explorations in minor key gloom, there are exceptions. “Serie” was written for his mother and “For Rain” was inspired by the first time Johnson’s daughter called him Dad. Both are lovely pieces from the lighter side.
On Saturday, Johnson will showcase the CD with a performance at Auntie’s Bookstore. His music will be accompanied by images of Harold Balazs’ various artworks as well as by violinist Rita Bak. The guitar and vocal duo Sidhe open the show, which starts at 7:30 p.m.
When Jason Herbst first told me about his band’s new CD, he gave me this warning: “Listen to it when you’re angry.”
Now that I actually possess the CD (the first from the five-man Spokane band called 50cc) I understand his advice.
“Cunole” is tight-knit musical aggression layered thick with roaring vocals, hefty rhythms and moments of eerie restraint. From the opening growls of “Bee Cee” to the unearthly conclusion of “Jeff,” the band’s first effort is a sonic storm straight from the dark side.
“I do think it’s rather confrontational music,” says Herbst. “It’s just a good way to get things off your chest.”
50cc formed a little over a year ago with Duff Evans on vocals, Cory Kissell on guitar, Al Guest on drums and Phil on bass. Herbst joined shortly thereafter, adding vocals and samples.
The fivesome has spent the last year making a reputation for themselves as one of Spokane’s hardest rocking bands.
With groups like Tool and Clutch in the 50cc bag of influences, Herbst explains their sound this way: “It’s not feel-good music. We like heavy stuff so we make heavy stuff.”
On “Lazy/Disappear” Evans and Herbst careen through a rugged vocal dueling match. “Jeff” is an epic 16-minute piece that finds the band low-key cruising through haunting aural landscapes.
Tonight, 50cc holds a CD liquidation blowout at Ichabod’s North where they headline the show. The band will play songs off their album and perform some of their new work. Lopez and Slim Pickens open the show, which starts at 9:30 p.m. Cover is $5. Check out the 50cc Internet site at www.angelfire.com/ wa/50cc/.
Catch 50cc again Sunday night when they open for Floater at the Roadhouse (formerly the No Name Saloon) in State Line.
And while we’re discussing Floater, Eugene’s favorite hard rockers play at Ichabod’s North Saturday. Felix Shmitt and Slackjaw open the show. Cover charge is $5. Show starts at 9:30 p.m.
What do you see here?
“Congratulations, you’ve just won the right to a meaningless, minuscule life, full of disappointment and pain - no extra charge.”
Are these the words uttered by some sadomasochistic game show host or are they the lyrics off a Seattle band’s latest album?
OK, it’s the latter. It’s Seattle’s own Rorschach Test.
Formed by singer James Baker and guitarist Benjamin Anderson in 1992, Rorschach Test combines industrial aggression with techno ambiance - and don’t forget a load of lyrical material drawn from the angst of a childhood filled with religious guilt.
Raised in a devout fundamentalist family, Baker was taught that he’d been “called by God” to be a preacher. He completed seminary and had even been ordained when lo and behold he noticed a few gaping breaches in the religious doctrine he’d studied. A career change seemed in order and Baker, after stumbling across Anderson’s path, picked music.
On their latest album, “Unclean,” songs like “Lament,” “Satan” and “Sex” explore religious topics with a twist. Of true identity of “Satan” and the song with the same name, Baker says, “All the evil that we do as individuals comes back to us, so we should look in the mirror.”
Baker and Anderson will be joined by guitarist Kris Geren and keyboardist/programmer Troee when Rorschach Test plays at Outback Jack’s Tuesday night. Worm Drive and Five Foot Thick open the show which starts at 9:30 p.m. Cover is $3.
Back in town
It’s been a couple of years since Chris Smither has come our way. Thankfully this talented singersongwriter is making a return visit to the Inland Northwest.
If you like superb guitar work and powerful songwriting, catch Smither at Tubs Cafe in Coeur d’Alene Saturday. His songs are a mix of blues and folk, beautifully crafted pieces highlighted by his resonant voice and mobile rhythmic string moves. Bonnie Raitt and John Mayall have both recorded his songs.
This time around Smither arrives with a new album, “Small Revelations.” With songs both spirited and somber, it moves through a variety of styles in fluid-like ease and understated grace.
If you like music that’s simply outstanding don’t miss this performance. Show starts at 8:30 p.m. Cover charge is $10.
Confederate Railroad returns to the Inland Northwest this weekend bringing its mix of country, honky tonk and blues.
The six-man band is known for upbeat country rockers like “Trashy Woman” and “Queen of Memphis” as well as odes like “Jesus and Mama” and “When You Leave That Way.” In 1993, the Academy of Country Music named them the best new vocal group.
On Saturday they perform at Kelly’s Grand Ole Opry in State Line, Idaho. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets are $10 in advance ($15 at the door), available at G&B; Select-A-Seat outlets, (800) 325-SEAT. You must be at least 18 years old to attend.
All kinds of all ages
On Saturday night, California Christian rock band Plankeye headlines a show at Club Christo in the Central United Methodist Church (518 W. Third). The Insyderz and Morella’s Forest open the show. Music starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10.
Spokane positive hardcore band Deadlock headlines the all-ages show Saturday at the Knights of Columbus Hall (E. 302 Boone). They’re joined by Seattle band Last Man Standing, Canadian band Decoy and Coeur d’Alene’s Rain Broz. Show starts at 7 p.m. Cover charge is $4.
The Libby Teen Center will host three bands Saturday night. Wicked Reign, The Junkets and Shuttlecock all perform. Doors open at 8 p.m. and music lasts until 11:15 p.m. Cover is $3. The center is located at 2900 E. First.
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