with Rochelle Jordan and Jon Jones
Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
JMSN's hypnosis is usually tender.
The Michigan-born R&B auteur has impressed everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Usher with his honeyed vocals and courts comparisons to Justin Timberlake, the Weeknd, and Frank Ocean. The truth really lies somewhere between those poles -- perhaps an amalgam of Ginuwine and Caribou is more accurate. JMSN's late-2014 LP, JMSN (The Blue Album), set out to prove that the emotive multi-instrumentalist is worth a spin for more than just the stars he resembles.
R&B has a strange power. It's able to make even the stiffest hipsters swivel their hips. It's otherworldly, and last night at the Triple Rock Social Club, JMSN showed that no one harnesses that power better than him.[jump]
When you're channeling JMSN thrugh iPhone headphones at a bus stop or playing Priscilla through an aux cord in an Uber, it's easy to assume JMSN's only skill is seduction. Translated live, there are waves of power, brilliant builds of noise that crest over and over until JMSN's flawless falsetto takes over in the calm.
JMSN took the stage looking like Jared Leto method-acting a Seattle grifter. He had on camo hunting boots, running shorts, and a motheaten T-shirt that was two washes from being demoted to oil rag. But, as he breathed his first notes into the microphone, it sounded like silk.
Waving his pallid, spindly limbs with enthusiasm, JMSN opened with the forlorn ballad "Addicted," easily The Blue Album's catchiest foray. The crowd hollered back the robotic refrain, livening JMSN's expression. You could tell that, from the venue's patent leather backdrop and diaper-like ceiling, he didn't know what to expect from the Triple Rock. Still, the enthusiasm could've been an omen or a blessing, and he chose to embrace it as the latter.
JMSN's setup included a bassist and a full drum kit. He flirted with his guitar on and off during the night but never committed to more than a note-bending outro or an atmospheric interlude, adding touches to songs as concertgoers orgasmed praise. The instrumentation created an odd context for JMSN, whose music is so ethereal that it's barely possible to even tie the notes to concrete instruments. But there he was, busting out renditions of "Streetsweeper" with big, viking drums and jam-session bass slaps.
On songs like "Price" and "The One," the effect was a little megachurch-y. The live aesthetic gave JMSN's sound a new level of intoxication. He continued freak dancing, strutting and contorting like R&B's Josh Tillman. By the third song, there was weed in the air, and a man in a ridiculous fur blazer spent two songs trying to hand JMSN a shot of -- you guessed it -- Jameson.[page]
All the ebbing energy was overtaking the crowd, who grew rowdier with each groove. Women cried, "I love you!" as JMSN exhaled one octave shy of a whistle tone. Flashes popped at the most intimate flourishes of songs, but JMSN took it all with a Dude-like affectation. When the fur-garbed man re-emerged and interrupted JMSN's stage banter to ask for the microphone, he was brushed off magnanimously. With a definite antagonist in place, the room lurched toward a dangerous level of admiration.
As things began to wrap up in "Love & Pain," it was uncertain how the night would end. JMSN ended the song by whipping up more enthusiasm in the increasingly drunk and euphoric throng, and we were one invocation from a riot. Or an orgy. It's unclear which spillway the emotions would overrun, but JMSN played on like we all meant well.
"Bout It" was his farewell. The song was a perfect closer -- its learn-it-on-the-spot refrain invites fans to chant along full gusto, and the whistling backbeat is an incantation in itself. By the song's denouement, JMSN was so caught up in the moment that he wantonly began pulling people up on stage, even trying to lift one girl right over the monitor, grinning wildly as he did so. A thousand Oscar selfies were taken by the drumkit. Someone made it rain like eight bucks. It was sheer pandemonium. The back of the room was in the front row, and the front row had swarmed the musicians' marks. When the house lights came on, no one could find JMSN until he reappeared at the merch table.
No one knew how he got there. No one knew how we went from Tuesday night bar crowd to rapturous marauders, but the confusion morphed into astonishment. The stage applauded the back of the room.
The Openers: The night began with one of the most audacious DJs I've ever seen playing early-2000s R&B JAMS in an oversized snow jacket and tube socks (no shoes). A dance circle broke out before Jon Jones even took the stage.
The Crowd: Rowdy and energetic. The whole floor knew JMSN's set inside and out and, aside from the dickhead in the fur, they were very gracious. However, three or four people in the front row watched the show through their cell phones. The weirdo next to me filmed the entire night -- DJ set to the onstage finale. One can only assume he was filming the most obnoxious Snapchat story ever assembled.
Critic's bias: I like JMSN, and have written about him before.
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