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MusicUnderFire | February 11, 2016

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Show Review: Jillette Johnson @Tin Angel 8/14/13

Show Review: Jillette Johnson @Tin Angel 8/14/13

Singer-songwriter, guitarist, pianist, and whiskey-loving New Yorker Jillette Johnson blessed the eyes and ears of Philadelphians on an unseasonably cool Thursday night at Old City hotspot, Tin Angel. The intimate venue was divided by a warmly lit wooden seating area and a coolly lit compact stage. The limited space managed to be grand with a stocked bar and just enough room to carry the voluminous strength of Johnson’s powerhouse vocals.


Petite is not the appropriate adjective to describe Jillette, though small, she’s far from dainty. Even in a floral printed skirt and cropped shirt, it is clear that she can hold her own as she takes the stage and hits the keys. Johnson is literally hitting the keys, purposefully, of course, as she dives right into her track “True North” from her debut record Water in a Whale. The crowd seems to be in awed silence, which is the case throughout the night, as Johnson commands their undivided attention. Her oversized-faced watch with its industrial, caricature charm trembles on her wrist as she feverously plays the keys ‘til the final note fades.


It isn’t until the first round of applause ceased that Johnson makes a traditional introduction, announcing her Birds & Whales tour with Satellite – the first tour she has ever co-headlined – formally. Johnson engages the audience with a comical story about getting an epic flat tire somewhere between New York and Philly, but successfully singing her way out of a mechanic’s bill. It’s easy to see the charm of the youthful singer, even as she preludes her “Basset Hound” track with a nonchalant “I wrote this song about stalking someone.” Oh, sure Jillette, no big deal! Bushes? Cops? Restraining orders? We’ve all been there at least once or twice.


Sarcasm aside, Johnson is a sultry creep against the mike, with a wide-eyed expression that emphasizes her cat-eyed make-up, a signature look in the making. Her vocal power is unwavering and undeniable as she slips right into “When the Ship Goes Down” after a quick thanks to onlookers. It is a full-body performance with Jillette convulsing as she slams against her vibrant keyboard. The songstress takes a moment to describe the album as a whole and it is a simple confession; the Water in a Whale is a “snapshot of a place that I was in” she explains before adding, “I don’t know, I just wrote songs.”


Her nonchalance is just a testament to her talent, but Johnson is humble with her admission to prolific music creation. It songs seem as easy as breathing to her as she delves into a few new tracks, yet to be released or determined to be album two worthy. Most notably, Johnson removes herself from the keys to whip out an acoustic guitar, the kind of guitar she self-taught herself to play at eighteen years of age (is there something she can’t do). She introduces a gritty southern folk newbie titled “Cardboard Cut Out Man,” in which Johnson seethes “… little paper doll who won’t pick up my call…”


From newbies to “True North,” “Neverland” (which she wrote about being drunk), and finally her most controversial track “Cameron,” Johnson doesn’t stop until her dynamic cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” record, which she slaughtered like a baby lamb. She stops to share some nuggets of her truth, including her need to perform, “when I don’t play a show I feel disconnected… like I didn’t go to therapy.”


“Torpedo” comes through the keys after she talks about her inappropriate Love & Hip Hop affiliation to the song, something involving mistresses and slow motion credits, before ending the show with her fierce live rendition of “Pauvre Coeur.” Johnson very casually leaves the stage, requesting a whiskey and one-on-one meetings with everyone in the audience (a promise she keeps). Overall, I’m too excited to have shared a live music space with an artist that delivers with the ease of sitting in their living room, but the vocal power of immeasurable strength. Expect big things from Jillette Johnson and don’t let the keyboard fool you; this girl isn’t about that foo-foo nonsense.


I keep hearing she's amazing, I really can't wait to see her! I'm going to her new york show at city winery this wednesday!