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John Krogman Live @ Pit & Balcony

October 29th, 2009

 

By Bo White

Pit & Balcony is a perfect fit for a rock & roll show. It has a sepia toned charm that is quite…comfortable. It’s like that modest house you grew up in, a little beat up and rough around the edges. But it was home and provided the landscape for all your growing pains and all those necessary losses such as moving away and getting older. The Pit is like that - despite its pretensions - it ain’t Broadway for sure and it’s more Full Monty than bourgeois, at least sometimes. 

The Pit seats 270 people and it was jammed. It was a homecoming of sorts for the AHHS class of 1974 - undefeated in football, unparalled in audacity, and proud of it. It was one of the most cohesive graduating classes ever to grace the halls of Arthur Hill. They and their coaches created a tradition of sports excellence that actually began several years earlier when John Krogman and many of his buddies learned their chops with the Pickles, a local football dynasty created by John Picard, a driven youth football coach who broke the mold by yelling, screaming and hitting kids back in an era when the rest us were being coached by our mothers… ’Cos our dads had to work - one income families. Imagine that.

The most compelling memory I have of the class of 1974 is that the girls were drop dead gorgeous (and taller than me) and the guys were casual cool and not in a hurry. It had to be a once-in-a-millennium genetic blip.

But just as many of us were there for the music – those wondrous Krogman anthems that fueled our dreams and fantasies back when we were young and single and stayed up late, way past 9pm. In some respect Krogman’s big band performance gave us all sense of legitimacy. We were right about him all along. It was more than youthful indulgence, dammit.  Krogman’s music had substance and melody and lovely hooks that you could sing-a-long with, dance to and make out like a rabbit looking for its bunny hole. 

And it holds up well, even after thirty years. The very idea of John Krogman matters. And his recent resurgence validates us almost as much as it does John Krogman. His long career mirrors our own struggle and reminds us of our regrets. If only I would have…

Ultimately Krogman’s music cradles our collective memory around a certain period of time when we were teetering on the cliff-edge of discovery and finding our balance.

The world was ours.

This concert went a long way in bringing us back together to celebrate ourselves and each other and honor the career of one of our greatest minstrels. Roll over Beethoven give Dick Wagner the news!

The outrageously talented John Vasquez opened the show to a polite yet warm response. But he is the future. We want what’s ours. Bring on Rockin’ Johnny…

When it was Krogman’s turn, the boomers in the audience crowed their delight. Like having a conversation in the kitchen with an old friend, members of the audience would speak directly to Krogman - kid, cajole, crack an inside joke and make obscure references.

Krogman would roar back like a barrel-chested curmudgeon - and then smile and wink and nudge us just a little… “I’m really a teddy bear.” This was a love-fest between old friends. And the good vibe came showering down in waves. John was smiling a mighty smile, never seen him smile so much. It must have been glued on or something – not to infer he was over-the-top excited, but he had more facial tics than Harpo Marx on a Stelazine highball.

The show was certainly not staged or choreographed. This was the real deal not a Hanna Montana or Paul McCartney concert where every note and every conversational aside is over-rehearsed. It’s like when someone asks how you are and you say fine and you drift into sports talk. B-O-R-I-N-G.

It is refreshing to hear great music performed with a warts and all spontaneity that scaffolds authentic emotion.

John opened the show with a homegrown song entitled Timothy William, a little acoustic ditty about freedom from rules and letting it all hang out. Krogman drew his inspiration from a Manwich commercial that posits there are no rules when you scarf down that sweetened gooey burger – just slop it down and let it drip from your grubby little paws you pre-pubescent microscopic monster-kids. Mom won’t mind. After all it’s Manwich!!  Great tune. To this day Manwich is a comfort food for me like BBQ chips and chocolate.

Early on Krogman acknowledged Neil Young as his musical inspiration and credited his old friend John VanBenschoten as a guitar mentor. He then proceeded to CSN&Y us with a straining version of Neil Young’s Don’t Let It Bring You Down, rough and ragged just how I like it. But it’s when he dusted off his anthem Red, White & Blue that Krogman hit his stride. He slowed it down with a soft quiet intimacy, his husky tenor revealing a startlingly human dialectic between peace and patriotism, a passionate testimony to the obscure genius of John Krogman.

Before John delved into the full band Sling that Mud show, he surprised all of us with a gentle stirring rendition of Cat Stevens’ Father and Son - Perfect song for the occasion.

Then…the house ROCKED with a big fat sound that took my breath away. It was similar to the body experience I had in 1970 when the Guess Who opened with Bus Rider and Kurt Winter’s slide riff tore it up. 

From the delicious funk of Soft and Sweet to the rock & roll of Raymond Jones, Krogman delivered a sonic blast of sound that was irresistible – machine gun drumming, power riffs, and horns doing Hendrix in reverse without overpowering those trademark Krogman hooks.

Krogman is digging it, swaying back and forth crouching low and air-guitar  jammin’ like he was back at the Hill during the lunch time frolic. He even DANCED. No crap. This cat was inspired. It is a curious paradox that a man who professes to see things in black and white can design a pure spectrum of colorful imagery in his minimalist musical anthems - even with the darker pieces such as Sling that Mud.

Krogman dedicated Sinatra Hours to Link Wray, the cat that invented the power chord. This is electric horn-based Chicago blues at its best. It rocks hard.

Shadows of Night contains one of Krogman’s more obscure references, He tells the story of being fired by the Pub and feeling PISSED and wanting to write a song like Tom Waits, a fearless writer that few truly understand.

For me this was a sentinel event for Saginaw. One of our greatest singer/songwriters was given a closer look from the perch of an historic backdrop.

John Krogman’s creativity and his contributions to Saginaw were finally acknowledged.

This was his night …and ours

 

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