Formerly of Beat Happening and Dub Narcotic Soundsystem and the founder/current owner of the iconic K Records, Johnson has remained stalwartly independent throughout his career. Preferring touring to radio, affordable all-ages shows to pricier tickets and merch, and offbeat small venues to rock clubs, Johnson is an indie rock idealist who has turned a philosophy of an eternally youthful, energetic, defiantly anti-corporate art form into a decades-long reality.
The Hive Dwellers visited the Luminary last night as part of their second national tour, supported by Dustin Wong, Woodsman and local band Sleep in Sundays. I caught all but Dustin Wong, who played after the headliner for whatever reason. This was an unconventional lineup and a little too late for me, a reviewer who is otherwise employed at a very early hour on weekdays. Sincerest apologies to Dustin Wong. If I didn't have to work today, I would have stayed for your set.
The three-fourths of the evening I was able to see was constructed as a gradual escalation of sound. Sleep in Sundays played mild, pastoral indie folk featuring soft-spoken vocals and ambient traffic effects so hushed they could be tides. Fuzzy blanket music isn't typically the best warm-up for a headliner but segued well into Woodsman's set, a perpetual ambient landscape of psych rock. The Denver-based group performed what could have been an experimental jam session with crisp, refined guitars and drums creating an acidy but not at all dissonant sound.
A roving co-op art project of sorts, the lineup of the Hive Dwellers varies, but the incarnation to visit the Luminary last night consisted of Johnson, Gabriel Will (guitar/bass) and Evan Hashi (drums). This no-frills three-piece played minimalist arrangements without the benefit of a mic for Johnson, whose vocals were at times so deep that they bordered on spoken word. The Hive Dwellers performed with the house lights up, creating an almost busker-like atmosphere that especially enhanced the stream-of-consciousness "Get It" as well as a brief dissertation on the science of touring between small towns and big cities. It's one thing to talk to your audience with stage lights in your face, but it's another to have a face-to-face conversation with people you can actually see.
The Hive Dwellers don't do affectation or adornment. Johnson told stories to Hashi's snappy, unobtrusive beat, and Will (who looks like Van Gogh crossed with Robby Krieger) nonchalantly ran through bossanova bass lines and funk-derived licks.
K Records' site describes the Hive Dwellers as: "…a band, a combo (as in combination) of disparate individuals who share a common love of rock 'n' roll, library cards and railroad travel…the Hive Dwellers are present tense, bearing witness to the maraca wilderness of the modern Basement State." This is an almost laughably hipster explanation, but it's accurate, and perhaps "disparate" is the best way to describe musicians who can so effortlessly produce what is essentially free-form jazz in the basement of a former elementary school.