New Orleans-based blues player Eric Johanson brought his brand of souped-up blues to Kansas City on Friday, February 9, 2024, for a couple of sets at Knuckleheads. Those who attended the show were treated to at least two sets of great smokin' blues music courtesy of Johanson's great playing.

If you're not familiar with Johanson, he's been around. His latest record, "The Deep and the Dirty" debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart. That's not the first time either. According to his bio, it was Johanson's fourth time reaching the Top 10.

If you're looking for someone to just play the blues, Johanson, like his cohort, Kansas City's Samantha Fish, may not be your cup of tea. Players like Johanson and Fish like to push the envelope and push the envelope he does on "The Deep and the Dirty".

His website's bio offers the following quote:

"I've never tried to stay within one box," he says. "Blues is at the root of the different styles of music I play — hard rock, Americana, New Orleans funk, country — but I don't see the lines between genres, and I'm not following a standard form. What I find important about the blues is the rawness of it. The expression of it. The humanness of it. That's what makes The Deep and the Dirty a blues album: the raw self-expression."

Now let me make something clear here, sometimes people refer to these things I write about artists I see as reviews. They're not reviews, because I'm not coming at these things objectively. I'm a fan first and foremost. So mostly, I'm sharing an experience I liked. If I didn't like it, I wouldn't write about it.

I first experienced Johanson's music when I saw him open for Samantha Fish at Park West in Chicago last October. I wrote, "If you like crunchy southern New Orleans-style blues, you'll love Johanson and you should check out his latest album The Deep And The Dirty, which has been doing very well on the Blues chart since its release."  You can read my entire review of that show here.

Anyway, he didn't disappoint at that show and gave a fabulous performance. So when I saw he was coming to Knuckleheads I had to attend.

Until Friday night, I was a Knuckleheads virgin and didn't know what to expect. Their website makes it seem like a pretty big place with lots going on. While a lot is happening I was surprised by how intimate their main room was and left curious about its gospel lounge, and garage.

Rob Creighton / Townsquare Media
Rob Creighton / Townsquare Media

Johanson and his bassist and drummer were tight all night long. And I loved just focusing on Johanson's playing. Many times throughout the night it seemed he was just in tune with his guitar and letting the riffs flow through him.

My journey listening to Johanson is just starting, so I can't sit here and rattle off the tunes of his that he played. I need to continue to add his music to my vinyl collection, and I need to continue to listen to his music to provide a more nuanced exploration of his setlist.

That said, I did recognize great versions of his songs "Galaxy Girl" and the title track to his latest album "The Deep and the Dirty" which were fantastic. He also did a Neville Brothers tune as a cover that impressed the hell out of me.

Unlike seeing Johanson at Park West, where the concert is the thing you go to see at the venue, Knuckleheads is different. Sure, you're still going to see an act play. Yet, the venue has a definite roadhouse/bar vibe. That's not bad and it didn't turn me off, yet I was a little self-conscious about getting too close to the stage or standing up front because no one else was.

It also means Johanson played at least two sets.

I caught the early part of his show starting at 7:30, then hung around for four or five songs of his later set which started about 9:45. Had I known there were two sets or more, I might not have rushed to get there from Sedalia to catch most of the early set. It also would have allowed my girlfriend to come.  After a full workday, and looking at an hour ride home back to Warrensburg, I was fine calling it a night four to five songs into his second set.

I left happy and satisfied seeing an amazing guitarist and songwriter and am looking forward to seeing him again. If you love blues and live music, put Eric Johanson on your list to see him the next time he plays in Kansas City, you won't be disappointed.

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