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Review: JOHN

A look at the recent Wheatsheaf if of the energetic up-and-comers, two piece JOHN.

I don’t really know what to expect when I walked in the Wheatsheaf. Music-wise, JOHN is thrashing and discordant, and I was curious to see how that translated to the stage. It was also my first time in the Wheatsheaf, and it was right in the middle of Freshers’ week so I’m pretty sure I was the only student there. The crowd was full of a lot of older people in leather jackets who gave me old rocker vibes, which was interesting for a band that sounds so new.

Opening for JOHN was Milo’s Planes, who John Newton (drummer and vocalist of JOHN) described as “Fugazi reborn” when I chatted to him before the show. They’re young, from Bristol and they are pure distortion-riddled, high tempo, doesn’t-take-itself-too-seriously fun. I was confused to see not one but two drummers on either side of the stage, but it all worked seamlessly – they took us on a journey as they controlled the music so that I didn’t realise how peaceful the room had gotten with their lazy strumming until they started screaming and I could feel the bass in my bones. This expert control of the atmosphere paired well with their contrastingly straightforward lyrics (“Alex IT DOESN’T MATTER, ALEX IT DOESN’T MATTER”) – I’m not quite sure who Alex is but I felt like I understood him. 

The sounds and samples they used were really interesting. The discordant noise of what I can only describe as wood being chainsawed in half cutting in to the emotional content of the lyrics in the second song was interesting to witness, and I was surprised when the drummer started leading the singing a few songs in. I felt like I was kept on my toes: there was never a dull moment. They jumped around the stage and had seemed to have a lot of fun, and the performance felt like it was being made up as they went along. Their subtle digs at each other and overall lightheartedness made the room feel comfortable. It set the tone for JOHN well but the band was talented in their own right. I feel like sometimes in concerts, the opening act can wear a crowd down but because Milo’s Planes had their own strong sound, I felt anticipation for how JOHN would differ.

“Hey, I’m John, He’s John, we’re JOHN.” With a concise opening JOHN played, starting with one of their older songs ‘Squad Vowels’. JOHN have always said they are a “live band first”, and I was able to see first-hand why: the sound just envelops the room, I felt like my ears were bleeding, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to head-bang without a worry as they took over. Despite being chained down by their instruments, both John’s really controlled the stage and the movement of the crowd. The richness of the sound that they create with only two people also blew me away – it never once felt like there was anything missing. Instead it’s rather clever how they take their “ weakness” and convert it into a strength through the sheer force and energy they put into their performance. The sweat was dripping down both John’s faces within one song and I respected that.

They continued into their second song , which is a track from their latest album Out here on the Fringes, ‘Future Thinker’. The crowd was quite small and quiet, so I really appreciated how in between songs, as they caught their breaths, JOHN chatted and tried to rile the crowd up. “You’re all very polite. Shout something mean.”. “ You’ve got shit legs!” referring to Drummer Newton’s bare legs, followed by some hearty chuckles. It was a very warm and welcoming atmosphere as John went on to talk about how Iggy Pop also liked this song, or how John’s mum was in the crowd that night. It is these details that separate the experience of streaming and going to listen to live music. Their performance was incredible and lived up to the expectations I had when I first streamed the album, but what really made this gig into one that I will remember is the interactions between the band and the audience, and their stage presence. At one point Newton’s drumstick flew halfway through the air on to the middle of the stage. It seems that this wasn’t the first time as he just grabbed another drumstick and didn’t miss a beat. Partway through their set, Johnny’s (Guitar/bass) guitar lost a string before losing some more. It wasn’t a reason to panic – he plucked it off and went back to playing. I appreciate a band that brings more than just a perfect rendition of their tracks, especially to a small stage like the Wheatsheaf. 

They continued with a flurry of songs from their latest album such as ‘Fringes’, ‘Western Wild’, and my favourite, ‘Midnight Supermarket’, as well as some old favourites from their first album. ‘Midnight Supermarket’ was a pleasure to see live as I always wondered how they changed their sound to play it – it is slower and more ambient than their other songs. John brings out another set of drumsticks solely for Midnight Supermarket as they slowed it down. They start by beginning with their usual joking around in between sets, a few chords here and there and it slowly developed into the song. Overall the setlist was ordered in a way that it controlled the vibe of the venue well throughout and it all blended together well. 

JOHN and Milo’s Planes are two up-and-coming bands that I recommend wholeheartedly for those times that you want to not think and just move. My only regret is that this concert was in 0th week  – could really have used the stress relief around 5th week!

JOHN’s new album “Out Here On The Fringes” came out on October 4th – you can listen on Spotify or buy here

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