Review by Benjamin Essoo with Photography by Jeremy Carron

So, summer ‘18 and that insanely tropical heatwave we’d all gotten used to has suddenly disappeared, and instead we’re left outside waiting for doors on a wet and what now feels like a cold 20 something degree evening, desperate to get in and see if Hobo Johnson & the LoveMakers, on their first tour of the UK, can bring some of that warmth back, at least for the night, with their distinctly unique brand.

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Stepping inside the small, bare bricked venue at Village Underground, we’re immediately faced with a desk, just kidding, Bob, it’s a table, with two ladies selling merch. (If you’re not sure what just happened there, it’s a reference to the opening of the 2018 NPR Tiny Desk Contest submission from Hobo Johnson & The LoveMakers, a video which went viral and helped get them ‘out there’, so to speak).

Into the main arena, it’s small, but feels just about right, with people steadily filtering in. The crowd, on perusal, are distinctly ‘millennial’, which makes sense, given the relatable subject matter in Frank Lopes’ (Hobo’s) music to this particular generation.

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It’s not long before a sound-check man wanders onto a still darkened stage to check the guitars, equipment and the mics, before announcing that he’s Jordan Moore, “one of the band”, and that he’s going to play a couple of songs, which turns out to be an amazing, unscheduled surprise. He picks up his guitar, sheepishly steps into the spotlight and dives straight into the first of four hauntingly beautiful songs. You can tell he’s good because he piques the audience’s interest instantaneously. Those on the outskirts of the room draw in as Jordan stares blankly into the distance and pours out his heart. As he high notes his way through the short set, he wins the crowd’s affection, ending his performance to screams of “we want you to stay on!”

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Not long after Jordan’s departure, billed support act JMSEY confidently takes to the stage. His first synth-y backing track plays and he starts plucking at his guitar before hitting us with his soft, whispery and warm vocals.

He introduces himself, bringing out a huge roar from the crowd when mentioning that he’s originally a Londoner, hailing from Peckham. Instant rapport achieved, we’re on board.
He charms, displaying his talent and diverse range, moving the audience with his soft, then pronounced, then raspy vocals interspersed with faultless falsetto, accompanied by his funk-like acoustic rhythms. Shout out to the ingenious incorporation of Khalid’s ‘Location’ as part of song ‘By My Side’.

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Although it’s a short set, he has time to include features, firstly from ‘Andy’, a worker at Village Underground, who’s invited on stage to perform with him after he had earlier discovered that (fun fact) Andy could play a randomly bought trumpet which just so happened to be laying around backstage.

For his penultimate song, JMSEY puts down his guitar, moves over to the keyboard and invites out, to everyone’s sheer delight, Frank, for ‘See You Again’, which is a perfect blend of their differing styles. Frank, performing in his characteristic energetic and exuberant nature, raps his verse and disappears from sight, leaving JMSEY to complete his set with a punchy finale.

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There’s maybe a half an hour or so wait until the scheduled start for the main attraction. The void is filled with music blasting through the house speakers. The crowd wait in anticipation, bopping along until a unanimous, collective and wholly unscripted sing-along to Beastie Boys’ ‘Fight for your Right’ to get in the mood, swiftly followed by ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana, which cuts short as Frank bursts onto the stage to rapturous applause, followed by band member Derek Lynch, gleefully throwing roses into the audience. He makes a brief introduction before asking the audience to help repeat lyrics for the opening to ‘Demarcus Cousins and Ashley’, which kicks off the show, followed by ‘Dear Labels’, a song depicting Frank’s suffering as he pitches himself and his ‘certain special something’ to record labels in the hopes of being signed and making his mum proud. 2 songs in and it’s plain to see he is not your stereotypical artist. He embodies his lyrics and encapsulates his audience with the visible portrayal of his words. He’s playful and intense as he crouches down to make eye contact and toward the end of the song, takes a deep breath and even wipes a tear from his eye as the evident emotion is overwhelming.

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Once composed, Frank drops the lights and asks the crowd to go wild as 2 Unlimited’s ‘Get Ready for This’, most recognisable for its use in Space Jam, one of the all-time great films, blares. The crowd go insane, almost moshing as strobe lights flash and the Lovemakers are introduced to the stage one by one.

Once all present, Jordan, from before, plays the unmistakable intro to ‘Romeo and Juliet’, one of their most popular songs. Frank begins reciting the first verse and the crowd are with him every step of the way, singing along to every single word.  The song is adapted for the live performance, making use of the whole band and toward the end, the music cuts altogether as Frank and the audience complete the final verse in harmony. You can see how much it means as he turns away, stunned that his music resonates and is being sung back at him. Turning back to face the adorning crowd, the band move onto ‘Sex and the City’ before Frank takes to the keys for a heart-wrenching rendition of ‘Creve Coeur 1’, weaving nuances, navigating from softly spoken lyrics to pained screams, something oh so characteristic of his style.

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The lights go down and only a spotlight remains on the star of the show, who takes the opportunity to move away from the music, if just for a moment, to recite a poem named ‘Mom and Dad’, depicting how 70% of people hate their job and how he doesn’t want to fall into that trap and instead be happy.

Returning to the keyboard, we’re treated to another emotion-laced performance, this time of the weighty ‘Jesus Christ’ and it’s struggles with believing in religion.

Moving on, it’s story time and Frank tells us how Hobo Johnson & The LoveMakers have a history spanning back 15 years in total. They wrote their first song at a tender age but then sent the song, which they’re about to play, out to an artist in Tennessee more capable of bringing it to life. He asks the crowd to sing along if they know the lyrics as Jordan plays the pop-rocky opening to none other than Kelly Clarkson’s, or should I say Hobo Johnson’s, ‘Since U Been Gone’.

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Following straight on, the crowd listen intently and clap along to new song ‘Moonlight’ and then a lesson in undying perseverance from ‘Mario and Link’, which has been perfectly adapted for the stage.

The next song, ‘Peach Scone’, their most popular, is met with pure excitement as from the off, everyone is singing and screaming along. It’s a beautiful moment where there is no distinction between band and audience, we’re all one, all relating to the same feeling, one of being in love with someone you can’t have.

The band exit the stage, leaving just Frank, who pulls up a stool and an acoustic guitar and begins an intimate performance of ‘Alone Forever’. He bares absolutely everything, delving deep into the recesses of his heart, a place one would usually keep guarded under lock and key. There’s no hiding and you can physically feel the pain behind the lyrics.  He moves over to the keyboard to continue with an unheard-of extension to the song, leaving the audience hanging onto every single word.

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Not to end on a sad note, he starts the slow moving, romantic backing track to ‘The Ending’. It’s the kind of track that makes you want to grab a partner, hold them tight, close your eyes and slow dance into the night. Frank says a huge thank you and departs, leaving the track to trail off.

Of course, that’s not enough and the crowd are left wanting more, chanting “one more song”. The band duly oblige and reappear in their entirety for another fan favourite, ‘Father’, a great finish to what’s been an unforgettable night.

All in all, Hobo Johnson & The LoveMakers are a unique prospect, producing mostly simple, catchy beats overlaid by Frank’s poetic prose and awkward flow, heavily doused in emotion. His presence is a mixture of unbridled joy, masked sadness, intensity, passion and adrenaline. He bares all and is unashamedly himself, bringing to the fore feelings, thoughts and topics that you would normally keep to yourself, something which endears him to those who listen to his words and his music.

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Setlist:
Demarcus Cousins and Ashley
Dear Labels
Romeo and Juliet
Sex and the City
Creve Coeur
Mom and Dad
Jesus Christ
Kelly Clarkson – Since U Been Gone
Moonlight
Mario and Link
Peach Scone
Alone Forever
The Ending
Father

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One Response to “Hobo Johnson & The LoveMakers + JMSEY + Jordan Moore at Village Underground, London, UK – 9th August 2018”

  1. Nicola Says:

    amazing review!

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