Smile Politely

Quit the commute and cut a rug

As a Champaign-Urbana resident, I really have little room to complain about traffic. Anyone commuting from the Chicago suburbs would (and rightfully should) laugh off my trite grumblings about “rush hour” in C-U. But, damnit, I can’t stand driving around here at 5 p.m.

The sheer numbers of drivers on the road in C-U at 5 p.m. is not overwhelming or particularly impressive, but the number of incompetent drivers is fairly stunning. I don’t know where all these bad drivers come from or where they’re going, but about the only thing they’re good at is either cutting me off, speeding around me, or driving 10 miles under the speed limit directly in front of me as I retreat home from work.

Krannert Center for the Performing Arts has my back, though.

This Friday, Krannert is offering me, and any other road weary music fans, the chance to skip the drive home and enjoy the music of JD McPherson. The event, aptly titled “Traffic Jam,” is a long-running series in which an act plays a free show at Stage 5 in the lobby of Krannert.

The aim of Traffic Jam, according to advertising and publicity director Bridget Lee Calfas, is to provide a low pressure, high-energy event for music fans to take in. The event generally occurs near the end of the semester, right when stress starts to mount, giving patrons a kind-of pressure release valve. And, as far as artists go, McPherson offers the ideal brand of music to help everyone unwind.

For the uninitiated, McPherson plays rock and roll the right way. Everything about his music has a great throwback vibe to it; the closest comparisons to McPherson are artists like Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry or Jerry Lee Lewis, and his music has the energy and quality to stand up to such weighty comparisons.

A veteran of punk rock bands, McPherson fell in love with rockabilly and rock and roll in the mid-90s after discovering Holly, Little Richard and a bevy of other classic artists. Since then, he has honed his craft and cultivated a repertoire of vintage instruments and sounds to match his ambition. His debut album, Signs and Signifiers, was released in 2011 to positive reviews from wide-ranging outlets, including the BBC, who called his music “pure-and-simple party music, make-out music and get-down-and-shake-it music, harboring the sort of simple riffs and hooks that easily hop across the decades.”

Signs and Signifiers is full of jaunty ditties that recall bygone days, like the dancehall anthem “Scratching Circles” and the incendiary “Firebug.” McPherson’s best toe-tapper might be “North Side Gal,” however. The first track on the album, “North Side Gal” is a charming unrequited love song made even more spectacular with horns and a thumping upright bass line.

For the initiated, this concert is a can’t miss. McPherson’s live show is renowned for its energy and enthusiasm. Reviews of the singer’s performances hail the way he jukes and jives on stage, the way he shreds his voice and the sweaty way he exudes punk rock energy.

McPherson is only one part of what makes his live show so entertaining, however. As on Signs and Signifiers, he’s is backed by a world-class band that can play with just about anyone. With piano, upright bass, horns, and drums, McPherson and his band tear through the hits on his album, providing the audience with unforgettable renditions. And, seeing as his set at Krannert is scheduled from 5 to 7 and Signs and Signifiers was released in 2011, it’s a good bet fans will be treated to some new songs from McPherson and maybe even a few covers.

With the bar and café at Krannert open, free parking in the parking garage, and absolutely no cost to see McPherson and his band, the reasons to skip this concert are few. Stomping your feet on the dance floor is almost certainly better than stomping on the brakes of your car, too. And did I mention it’s free?


You can check out JD McPherson at Kranner Center for the Performing Arts Friday, April 12 at 5 p.m. for free. Check out McPherson’s Daytrotter session to prepare.

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