Something special happened at the Midway Cafe last Friday.
The gritty, sorta-out-of-the-way bar in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston played home to both a triumphant welcoming party for an out-of-towner, and a tour de force welcome home for a native son.
UK folk-punk songwriter Louise Distras, of course, is the former. Playing just her second-ever show in the United States (following only the previous night’s tour kickoff in Portland, Maine), Distras is serving as direct support on Bostonian-turned-Californian Bryan McPherson‘s tour in support of his stellar new album, Wedgewood. The two are essentially flip-flopping roles from last month’s UK/European tour that saw Distras headlining, at times with a three-piece band. The direct support role can be an especially tricky thing, particularly in a headliners hometown, but Distras was quick to lay waste to whatever jitters may have been present, commanding the stage from note one. Boston has a thing for music that features honest, raw, working-class struggles, all of which is right in Distras’ wheelhouse, as evidenced by her own stellar new album, Dreams From The Factory Floor (Pirates Press Records). Though plagued through the first few songs by persistent technical difficulties, the dynamic Distras powered through, playing a few truly unplugged tracks and winning over fans in the process.
But the night, obviously, belonged to McPherson. Hometown crowds are generally known for their overly supportive nature, but Boston crowds can also be a notoriously fickle, vocal lot. By the time McPherson took the stage at around 11:30pm, (Hippie Hour, which preceded this show at the Midway, ran long…who’d imagine hippies would have issues with time management), the sold-out crowd was more than join the ride. McPherson cut his teeth busking in and around the Boston area, and spent some time on the road with other acoustic troubadours like Tim Barry and Cory Branan over the years. While McPherson may not be quite the name that Barry or Branan are at this point, he’s sure to meet or surpass those two (editors note: if you’re familiar with my musical tastes through reading this site, you understand that any comparisons to Tim Barry or Cory Branan are high praise and not just bandied about) in short order, based both on the strength of Wedgewood and on McPherson’s command of a crowd.
This particular crowd featured McPherson’s parents, a slew of other scene regulars, and friends McPherson has made along the way. The set was a virtual marathon, a two-hour epic slugfest that spanned McPherson’s career, focusing heavily on both Wedgewood (released on his own OFD Records) and his last album, American Boy, American Girl (2023, State Line Records). While there was plenty of banter to go around — McPherson is a Dorchester Irishman, of course — the socially conscious, politically firebrand music and the camaraderie were the focal point, particularly as McPherson made repeat visits to the venue floor to join the troops, rather than merely to rally them on. The crowd returned the favor, joining McPherson on stage for a raucous, set-closing cover of the Rancid classic, “Olympia, WA.”
Local support on this night came from local acts CE Skidmore and Time And Place. Skidmore is one-third of awesomely-named acoustic punk act Live Nude Girls, though she was essentially flying solo on this night, joined for only one song by fellow Nude Girl Aria Rad. Time And Place are a four- (and sometimes five-)piece sort of highly-enjoyable folk/punk/shanty/pub rock band along the lines of a less-drunken, Bostonian Skinny Lister. Both performed well-received sets that kicked off the show in fine fashion, getting the room fired up (figuratively of course, but almost literally based on the venue’s internal temperature) in advance of the tour mates.
Check out our photo gallery from the evening below.