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Hobo Johnson Rides the Rails into House of Blues

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November 16th, 2019

Interestingly-monikered spoken word/rap artist Hobo Johnson recently rode a rail into Cleveland's House of Blues to perform an offbeat, much-loved set of mumblecore spoken word that left the sold-out, primarily post-millennial audience squarely in the palm of his hand.

The Sacramento-based vocalist, born Frank Lopes, Jr., became famous in mid-2016 with the release of The Rise of Hobo Johnson, a fractured mixture of spoken word, rap, and rock music, all backed by his outfit, The Lovemakers.


Gaining traction in 2017 via an NPR video release in their "Tiny Desk" series, Johnson's tune "Peach Scone" received millions of views.  Anticipation grew over the ensuing months, culminating in the September 2019 release of The Fall of Hobo Johnson, of which the band is currently out touring in support.

The House of Blues audience was squarely divided into two parts at Friday's show:  The teens and early twenties crowd pressed up against the GA barricade, and the bevy of parents nursing Bud Lights while leaning against the back wall of the cavernous venue. 

The baby-faced vocalist took to the stage sporting a million-watt smile.  His fans, pressed hard up against the barricade, screamed at his arrival.  Like many of his contemporaries, the band doesn't have a deep catalog of cuts to choose from; playing a brisk fifteen tunes, the set was interrupted many times by off-the-cuff banter from Johnson.  Several times throughout the evening, he stopped to listen to a fan's declaration of love; many times loud "I love you, Hobo!" echoed through the venue.  

One of the things that i found somewhat disarming and, perhaps due to the intimate nature of today's "music" amongst younger people, the vocalist forgot where he was in the spoken word piece.  Honestly, spoken word is a difficult sing-songey, rhythmic patter of words and utterances and can be difficult to remember.  He'd stop, look for the elusive words, laugh, and then tell the crowd that he needed to start over.

While not a polished performance (or performer), that style of honest, oh-shit-moment style seemed to endear him to the crowd even more.  His million-watt smile would grace that cherubic face and the crowd forgave him for his oopsy-daisy indiscretions.  I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with that style of performance; I've seen the same style of at LaureLive on more than one occasion.  Pittsburgh's Daya, an internet sensation, has the same kind of oh-hey-how's-it-going kind of stage presence.

Today's artists start through uploading videos and songs onto the internet and have gained almost instant fame via the millions of plays a particular tune may get.  It's a different world than even ten years ago, when an artist would hit the road and play clubs for years before getting any recognition by a label.  They'd hone their stagecraft and gain some hardcore experience in front of a crowd.

Today? Not so much.  But therein lies the appeal.  Hobo Johnson was one of them.  And if he could get up there and rip through passionate, life-affirming experiences that the crowd identified with, maybe...just could they.

Photos and Review by Brian M. Lumley

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