First Avenue’s Mainroom became a who’s who of festive sweaters, Santa outfits, and holiday cheer on Friday night. Fans cozied up with a beer or hopped seltzer with big plans to enjoy the rockabilly sounds JD McPherson and his always-astounding band. They weren’t disappointed.
McPherson dropped his holiday album Socks last fall. It’s become a household staple for me around the holidays. It has just as much holiday wonderment as it does rockabilly pizzazz.
Opening up the evening was a solo performance from Joel Paterson. He played a set of songs from his holiday album Hi-Fi Christmas Guitar. One thing was clear immediately: this guy knows his way around a guitar!
While the set was fully instrumental, the Hawaiian-style rendition of “Jingle Bell Rock” got the crowd singing along. He was witty between songs, and an absolute joy to watch. The Chicago native even pointed out The Cactus Blossoms in the crowd. Instant Minnesota cred.
“It’s so nice to play Christmas music for people who know what winter feels like!”
Paterson sandwiched in a few Beatles songs from his latest album, Let It Be Guitar!, including “All My Loving,” “Honey Pie,” and a stunning rendition of “Because.” He was the perfect artist to set the tone for a very full Mainroom. Cheers and applause still rang out as the screen came down over the stage.
JD McPherson and his band came out swinging under a sea of red and green lights with “All The Gifts I Need,” “Bad Kid,” and “Every Single Christmas.” McPherson made it clear that no one would be standing still at this show. He waved his arms up in the air and leaned over the side of the stage to hype up the crowd.
A personal favorite from the album is “Ugly Sweater Blues.” It’s about a kid who doesn’t want to wear a hand knit gifted sweater on Christmas. The song has a calm and warm 1950s feel, complete with glockenspiel and slide guitar.
The show wasn’t completely filled with Christmas songs, though. McPherson quipped that the show would only be 30 minutes if they stuck to the album. So, they busted out a few from songs other albums. “North Side Gal” kicked the fans back into the fast lane with saxophone solos from Doug Corcoran and guitar solos from McPherson.
“You Must Have Met Little Caroline” brought a heavy rock n’ roll vibe to life. Harmonious “oooh’s” spread from the stage into the crowd. I saw couples of all ages dancing in any open space they could find in the packed venue.
Jimmy Sutton has to be in the running for the most fun upright bass player. When he plays it feels like his bass is made of fire. You can always tell when he’s about to ignite the sound when he mischievously smiles and swings his arms around in a circle to pluck the strings.
More Christmas tunes spurred the set along, including “Socks” and “Skinny Santa.” Fans let loose by shouting the lyrics along. One of the most exciting moments of the night was “Lucky Penny” from the 2017 album Undivided Heart & Soul.
The set cruised along with a breezy rendition of “On The Lips” and “Head Over Heels,” from 2015’s Let the Good Times Roll, that got Sutton reeling on electric bass and a driving piano feature from Ray Jacildo.
The band waved to the crowd and left the stage to thunderous applause and cheering. Everyone was hoping for an encore. Of course, with applause like that, they got it.
The band came back on the stage before McPherson to play a jazzy rendition of “Santa Clause Is Coming To Town.” It was a really nice change of pace to go back to where the night began with an instrumental song. Doug Corcoran’s saxophone was rightfully out front for this one. McPherson ran onto stage midway through the song to highlight each member of his mega-talented band.
JD McPherson took a moment to thank Joel Paterson for opening the tour. As the crowd cheered for him one more time, Paterson emerged from the side of the stage with his guitar in hand. They played “Run Run Rudolph” together. Everyone on stage was smiling.
It’s an incredibly special thing to see a group of such talented musicians come together to create an event like this. It’s even better when you can tell that they’re having just as much fun as the crowd.
If you missed this year’s show, watch out next year. JD himself said that he hopes to do it every year!