This time around (Jayber Crow has played here three times in the past year, twice with Jason Anderson), Matt Johnson '05 opened the Alumni-focused show. Matt Johnson was not bad, but he also was not good. It is hard for me to make a judgment on his music from what I saw because he sounded like he might have had a sore throat, which, needless to say, can pretty much kill a set for a singer/songwriter.
However, I will say that I was not very impressed with his guitar work. The moment I saw him, I knew exactly what he would sound like. Johnson clearly buys pretty heavily into the whole John Mayer and Jack Johnson scene. That is not an inherently bad thing, but at this point, it's pretty played out.
Twin Cities folksters Jayber Crow (Zach Hawkins, a Luther alumnus and Pete Nelson '04) were sandwiched in the middle. I am always delighted by how well-received they are because they deserve every bit of recognition they get. One of my favorite things about Jayber Crow is that they're always on. There is never a bad show and there's not a night where one of the boys just is not with it.
They sounded better than ever on Tuesday. It is probably a natural result of just being out there and playing a lot of shows, but their presence over the past couple of years has gotten much stronger and more confident. While you would not expect an much from a two-man folk band, their sound has noticeably diversified. They have come into their own beautifully and avoided being sonically static.
Chris Koza '01 closed the night. Koza has been around a whole lot, but I had never gotten around to seeing him. I am really glad I finally did. Koza is an artist who will clearly do very well. He is a strong songwriter with a Dylan-esque beat who will definitely be able to win over the hearts of most indie-folk lovers. He might not have the same tortured air as Conor Oberst, but he is infinitely more approachable.
That being said, Koza should stay off the slow, mellow music. During the sad, slow stuff, Koza falls into the trap that many singer/songwriters with lovely voices fall into: he forgets his audience. While sad, slow songs are often the most packed with meaning, if there is no hook or flavor, the audience has no incentive to pay attention.
Aside from a lull or two, Koza's set was solid and enjoyable. Koza has all the elements of a superstar singer/songwriter: introspective, cerebral lyrics, pretty good chops on the guitar, an affable stage presence and a cute face. His next album could be the one that launches him onto the national music scene.