Bristol is the waviest city in England, and home to a large portion of its freaks. On Saturday 22 January, every single beautiful one, of the hundreds who showed up to the O2 Academy to see Hobo Johnson, came dressed to play. Even the guy in his leaver’s hoodie. At a gig. Imagine. All over the room, nose rings, tattoos, freaky clothes and haircuts of all shaves and sizes, in every colour, were wedged in like funky crayons.
I placed myself under an O2 Priority poster saying “Our time here is like a drop in the ocean. Breathe it all in.” and from under this corporate advert for drowning I watched the gig unfold.
The bass rattles the room, and the warm-up act – neon mushroom Oliver Tree – speeds on stage on a scooter followed by his band. These guys are weird. Tree looks like a Gallagher brother after a psychedelic breakdown, fluorescent and rocking a bizarre bowl cut that works great on stage but makes you worry that he still has that hair once the gig is over. His guitarist is like a shaggy Ron Weasley and the drummer is already freaking out over the cymbals. The energy is infectious. The crowd is bouncing in feral waves as they launch into some of their best know songs ‘All that’ and ‘Alien Boy’. When ‘Movement’ starts, the lanky kid in front of me who smells of stale smoke pulls out his gun fingers. Christ knows how he got those through security.
the lanky kid in front of me pulls out his gun fingers… Christ knows how he got those through security
Tree is doing a new dance move every minute and a fresh cheer goes up with each one. These are some seriously weird shapes he’s cutting, he looks like one of The Teletubbies being electrocuted. Miraculously he maintains the energy throughout his set and the crowd barely stops either, even during the slower songs, and as he comes to the end with his best-known number ‘When I’m Down’ everyone watching is jittering and the stage lights blare wild colours. The sound man is spasming behind the deck trying to keep up in a frenzy of hands. Tree has delivered a performance worthy of a headline set, and the chatter among the audience buzzes with hope that the main act will exceed it.
A half hour lull follows where nobody dares to move and the excitement builds again as the sound techs finish rearranging the stage. Suddenly Hobo Johnson’s voice is monologuing, and one band member appears and takes up the keyboard. Then the man himself is running on stage to furious screams and yelling out ‘DeMarcus Cousins and Ashley’. He’s dressed for the beach, barefoot and baggy shirt with tight shorts that end below the knee, like he’s back in California. Maybe he’s yet to adjust to the British winter, or maybe he’s very sensible; we passed sweaty in here an hour ago. He raps flawlessly and knows how to play the crowd. He’s expressive, running mad circles over the stage, resonating with the crowd’s cheers, whipping them up into peaks like meringue.
He raps flawlessly and knows how to play the crowd
Two songs later, he rallies the noise and ‘Space Jam’ starts blaring as he introduces his lineup: “And here come the lovemakers! – y’all ready for this?” The band barrel on – the drummer looks exactly like an Irish guy called John I once met – and they charge into ‘Romeo and Juliet’, one of their best, performed perfectly. Yet as the show rolls into its middle, one fact becomes unfortunately plain: Hobo Johnson’s only album on Spotify, The Rise of Hobo Johnson, is only 28 minutes long.
one fact becomes unfortunately plain: Hobo Johnson’s only album on Spotify is only 28 minutes long
Accordingly they fill the middle with talking, songs from his unknown 94 Corolla album, and straight poetry. Johnson has always been clear that he is not a rapper but a poet, yet the crowd don’t seem to know. It is uncomfortable to hear him getting quieter, monologuing and freestyling his poetry, while the crowd’s chatter gets louder and more disruptive. Thankfully as the songs resume and Hobo pauses on the lyric “I’m still waiting for bras to be thrown on stage”, a lacy black number flies out of the crowd. He takes it in his stride, wearing it proudly round his neck as a push-up tie, and a minute after, a girl launches some paper on stage with a shriek of “I wrote you some poetry!” By this point everyone is back on board and the redhead in front of me is vibrating her head at 100rpm. They finish, of course, with ‘Peach Scone’ and the crowd go mad. All the energy is collected and concentrated into 3 minutes of bodies swaying like wheat in a windstorm, and the gig is over and we’re back out in the cold, weed-smelling night air.
Bristol is the waviest city in England, and home to a large portion of its freaks. Tonight, they were treated to a freakshow by two of their own; a weirdo and a hobo. And it was glorious. I should finish with Oliver Tree’s parting words, because they sketch the gig in fine detail: “No matter how weird you look, you are beautiful”. Trite, perhaps, but I love it. And so did Bristol.