I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t listen to a lot of instrumental music. There’s stuff I like, specifically film scores or old classical music, but for modern stuff my little bird brain needs lyrics to latch on to or I start to lose interest. So take it from someone who isn’t super into this genre when I say Jonah Parzen-Johnson and David Miller both played great sets last night at Ancien Cycles in Chicago.
I saw Jonah play once before with a group called Zongo Junction. That was a more fun, afrobeat-type dance music. His solo work is much heavier, with more of his own thoughts and ideas poured in. He spoke a lot and played music about appropriating other people’s art which they’ve suffered for and using it to create your own art. We see it all the time in modern culture, but it weighs on Jonah’s heart heavier than most. He seems to really struggle with the idea that someone went through a lot of hardship to make something that he can then use to make something else. That’s the story of music since its earliest forms, but it is kind of weird that it’s just accepted.
My favorite song that he played was one called “Those Shoulders.” It’s a really beautiful piece that will hopefully be on his next record. Here’s a very short clip from last night’s performance.
Miller was very personable, though not as naturally charismatic as Parzen-Johnson. The stories about where his songs came from were interesting, though. His guitar-playing was loose but exact, with a sweetness in the tone that reminded me of Elvin Bishop and Gary Moore (I’m really more of a blues guy than jazz). He did tell one hilarious story of a run-in with a rather immature critic that called Miller’s music “Worse than my high school band.”
The crowd was small, around 30 people. For a space like Ancien Cycles that filled up the seating area nicely. Most in the audience enjoyed the music with their eyes closed, allowing Parzen-Johnson and Miller to fill their heads with images of conflict and love. It was certainly a unique experience for someone who tends to go to shows at bigger venues where the audience is mostly transfixed by their phones or those around them.