Good things often come in threes. On a gorgeous Skagit Valley late spring night, a very creative young woman and her trio, a young man with a distinctive far-away voice, plus local favorite John VanDeusen’s triumphant return with his new band, all conspired to create a magical evening at the Lincoln Theater https://www.lincolntheatre.org/ in Mount Vernon Friday, June 9.
“The theatre is located at 712 South First St. It was originally constructed in 1926 as a vaudeville and silent movie house, and currently shows movies several days a week, as well as hosting concerts and other activities. The theatre also contains one of only 98 Wurlitzer theatre organs still located in their original installation.”
The Lincoln and its sister theater in Bellingham, the Mount Baker Theater, are some of my favorite venues. Both were designed using a Spanish Revival theme. The ornate plaster work on the walls with its bright blue, yellow and red accents are truly a work of art in themselves. I have seen many great indie movies and concerts there.
John VanDeusen has the distinction of being one of several internationally known musicians from the area. Like any Anacortes residents, he is also part of my family’s history. John and my older son used to film hilarious comedy skits, James Bond send up’s, and the occasional medieval period pieces in our back yard when they were young. I still have these tapes in my possession, and plan on selling them for hundreds of thousands of dollars someday. Bids may be submitted, oh, sorry, I’m getting off track. I have followed John’s musical journey from the early Lonely Forest days, playing operatic rock in the basement of city hall, to his power quartet, and then his withdrawal from rock stardom to return to what it seems is the real John, a unique, deeply spiritual and inquisitive songwriter who does like to rock out on occasion.
The evening started with Ashely Eriksson and her three piece band taking the stage. Ashley’s rich voice and lightly distorted guitar playing was well received by the packed house. Her rendition of “Sealed With a Kiss” added to the nostalgic theme of the night. Midway through her set, she performed a bewitchingly beautiful song called “Harmony” which really accentuated her voice and that of her band mates. In true indie rock style, she followed it up with a sardonic relationship song about oven mitts and juice, the chorus of which was “You make me sick.” She has numerous songs available on Band Camp. https://laurenashleyeriksson.bandcamp.com/
Next up was R. Turner. A recent immigrant from Upstate New York, Ricky and his electric guitar told stories about his travels, including meeting John in Germany and Beijing. His high, at times lonesome voice and detailed storytelling style reminded me of Jeff Buckely. Much to the delight of the listeners, he played “Goulash Cannon”, a song about working in a field kitchen tent in rainy Germany. He followed this up with a more rocking song about playing at house parties for twenty people. His final offering was a lovely, introspective song about remembering his younger brother always as a blond little boy. He also has songs on Band Camp. https://rturner.bandcamp.com/
With the evening off to a great start from these two fine opening acts, the crowd of die hard J VanDeusen fans was more than ready for the headliner. John came out and performed a couple solo songs in his highly original and emotive singing style. His song about the armless man he met on the street in Germany is a masterful work. The haunting refrain of “Oslo waits” and vivid imagery are classic John.
And then the band came out…..On the first number, John’s long time musical collaborator Bradyn Krueger exploded with ferocity on the drums. For the next two hours, the audience held on while John and his crew, Elizabeth Dirks and John’s wife Annababe on vocals and keyboards, Nick Thompson on guitar, Julianne Thompson on vocals, keyboards and guitar, Bradyn on drums, and Jonathan Keane on bass, flew through an amazing mix of pounding rock songs, more plaintive ballad-like numbers, and stage theatrics. Always willing to share his feelings with the listeners, John interjected stories and personal anecdotes about his complicated journey.
From the fourth section of his new four album project, he and the band performed a song which included some interesting commentary about video games and the effect on people. It was melodic and powerful at the same time. The theme of “Let’s burn the city down” really opened up the listeners to more contemplation than the sensory assault of the evening would allow.
From the second album of his new project, they offered up a spiritually themed number. Against the backdrop of atmospheric keyboards, the song echoed a love and longing for being closer to Jesus. Halfway through the tune, things changed. The sound became more sparse, and the lyrics now referenced regret and uncertainty about the future. Loud feedback rose to a migraine inducing roar, the lights flickered, and the band dropped down to the stage. Crouched next to his amp, John gazed out at the crowd with a look of confused madness. My personal impression was that the sonic and visual barrage was some kind of allegory to the crucifixion, but that’s just me.
At the conclusion of the set, the crowd got to their feet and roared their approval. There was no way the band was going to get away without an encore. The stage was vacated, and Bradyn and friends came out and performed an amazing drum line followed by John and his guitar. He whole heartedly thanked the audience, then sang another emotive song which seemed to echo a familiar theme of John’s, pain and perseverance. To cap the brilliant evening of music and nostalgia, the band came out and did a rendition of “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”
Entertainment Writer Mark Perschbacher…A man who will cross great barriers to find exceptional music. Mark is a long time Skagit County resident, contributor to, and supporter of local arts.