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1974 concert review (well, I loved it) - Printable Version

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1974 concert review (well, I loved it) - Cindy M - 05-14-2022

Crowd's Reaction Carried a Message
Guthrie Theater - Mpls, MN - June 4, 1974
Roy M. Close, Minneapolis Star

Singer-guitarist Michael Johnson, who presented a pair of concerts last night at the Guthrie Theater, is an interesting performer who has never quite developed into an exciting one.

That point was emphasized about three-quarters of the way through the first of Johnson's Walker Art Center-sponsored concerts. After more than 90 minutes of solo performing, Johnson brought two sidemen — Mark Henley and Ted Sherman — to the stage for the final half-hour or so of his show.

The effect was astonishing. Johnson's intensely personal vocalism and sophisticated guitar playing gave way immediately to a much more elemental, foot-stamping sort of music — music characterized by looseness and energy rather than attention to detail — and the audience, which had been applauding politely up to that point, responded with long, loud ovations after each song.

What this segment of his set forcefully suggested is that Johnson must significantly change his approach to performing if he hopes ever to capture more than a small, faithful following.

His principal strength — his exceptionally fine guitar playing — is all too clearly offset by his weaknesses, including an evident preference for message-heavy songs and an undistinguished (although pleasant) voice.

Johnson is not an especially gifted stylist, and therefore needs to choose his material more carefully than he did last night. Songs such as "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," which he delivered unconvincingly, not only demand greater interpretive skills than Johnson brings to them but invite comparisons with other singers' interpretations.

Better suited to his abilities are songs like "Here Comes the Sun," which provide ample opportunities for instrumental embellishment but make comparatively few vocal demands. Johnson gave it an excellent performance.

All of the trio numbers, of course, fell into that category. In each case, the almost uncomfortable intensity that typifies much of Johnson's solo vacalism was muted by the addition of two other voices, while his stylish guitar work remained an instrumental focus.

Notably, the songs presented by Johnson with Henley and Sherman tended to be spirited, uptempo and broadly comic — in sharp contrast to those he presented as a soloist, which tended to be more personal but less stirring.

The audience's reaction seemed almsot one of relief. And not without reason: After 90 minutes of admiring music that is artful but not exciting, it's nice to hear something that invites excitement.