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I Saw The Sign


Retro rockabilly guitarist and singer J.D. McPherson brought his quintet to McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, CA, this month, part of a tour in support of his debut release, Signs & Signifiers (Rounder). Bristling with the zing that wowed fans of the album, it was a rare opportunity to see an emerging artist up close and personal.

McPherson's total immersion, visually as well as musically, into the mid-century world of Buddys, both Holly and Guy, makes sense considering his art school background. From the vintage equipment that was such an integral part of the record's sound to the pitch-perfect hair, clothes and requisite thick-framed eyeglasses, the band time-machined the audience back to the '50s. And yes, there were ponytailed girls bopping and jiving in the aisle.

The band's set list ran mostly to the CD's songs, supplemented by covers ranging from classics like Bo Diddley's "Hangin' Round Here," to contemporaries, like the Austin band Bellfuries' "Your Love (All That I'm Missing)." That song is on the album, as were crowd favorites like "Country Boy," "Fire Bug," "Northside Gal" and the moody and mysterious title track.

McCabe's has been hosting concerts in its small hall behind the store for 40 years. The sleepy, unassuming vibe and the cookies and coffee served at intermission belie the venue's high profile in the alt and indie scenes. The packed house seemed aware and appreciative that it was getting in on the ground floor, hearing a band that would soon be moving on to larger spaces. But for now, McPherson and company were keeping it real, from the kickass rock and roll onstage to the van with the tiny trailer to haul their gear parked out front. Check to see if he's playing near you.