At the start of his Friday night concert in TD Arena, J.D. McPherson seemed awfully nervous for a rock ‘n’ roll star. Maybe it was the last-minute change of venue from the Cistern Yard to the arena, precipitated by a false alarm from Tropical Storm Andrea. Maybe he was just shy. The band seemed to have a hard time finding its footing, too, plodding through the first song-and-a-half before trying anything too wild.
It wasn’t until the third song of the evening, a cover of the Big Tiny Kennedy song “Country Boy,” that McPherson and his band began to hit their stride. Upright bassist Jimmy Sutton led off with a slinky solo that earned cheers from the audience before the band launched into the music with abandon. For the rest of the evening, Sutton charmed the crowd with his impeccable chops and stage charisma, often lifting the instrument off the ground as he thrummed and slapped the strings.
Next came a few songs with scorching solos by saxophonist Douglas Corcoran, whose bombastic musical presence lent real ’50s rock cred to the show. Raynier Jacildo had a few memorable spotlight moments on organ and piano, too, and drummer Jason Smay seemed to know when to play it cool and when to pound the skins with reckless abandon.
But McPherson, the guitarist and bandleader, still seemed to be holding something back for perhaps the first half-hour of the show. He nailed every solo, and his vocals were pitch-perfect, but he didn’t seem to be putting his back into it — until he let loose on a surf-rock freakout on the song “Firebug.” During that song, dozens of audience members got up from their seats and danced in the aisles on the ground floor, perhaps setting a new benchmark for audience participation during Spoleto. The dancing crowd only swelled in number as the night wore on.
What a sight to see: prim South-of-Broaders, rockabilly greasers, and college-age shag dancers spinning and dipping on the floor, gradually inching their way to the front of the stage until what started out as a technically impressive exercise in mid-century revivalism became an all-out rock show.
Finally, McPherson shook off whatever inhibitions had been holding him back at the start of the show and gave the people what they wanted. From there on out, the show was pure joy. McPherson fed off the crowd’s energy, and he threw it right back at them.