For the last couple of years Lexington’s music scene has been abuzz with talk about Johnny Conqueroo, the blues rock trio comprised of locals Grant Curless (Guitar, Vocals, Harmonica, Organ), Wils Quinn (Drums), and Shawn Reynolds (Bass). With only a handful of songs from their self-titled EP the boys have made a name for themselves, both locally and regionally. But all of that is about to change.
On Friday, 12/2/16, Johnny Conqueroo premiered it’s debut LP Washed Up to a packed house at The Burl, one of Lexington’s best spots to catch a live show. The Burl’s wooded interior and low stage height created an intimate environment to showcase the new album.
Before taking the stage it was apparent we were in for a new kind of Conqueroo. Notably, the band’s set up now includes a slick gold Fender lap steel guitar and an old church organ. The crowd was full of Conqueroo-faithfuls, eager to hear new tunes that expand on the band’s relentless rockabilly twang. Their trademark sound dives deep into the blues with psychedelic influences strewn throughout.
Playing nearly every song in their catalogue, the band opened their set with three new tracks in a row; “PalinDRONE,” a rowdy blues rock jam session in which even the vocals would fit in perfectly on Black Sabbath’s Paranoid; “Who Do You Trust,” a speedy guitar-plucking take on surfer acid rock; Followed by the Nick Waterhouse original, “High Tiding,” a smoky, guitar-heavy return to classic JC.
After a rowdy rendition of “Hearing Voices,” a set staple from the EP, Conqueroo showed off their new psychedelic jam sound with “Grey Man Jam”. The tune is a seemingly improvisational instrumental track that highlights each band member’s talents.
A set highlight came during the premier of “Downtown Boy.” As the number started to break down, the band led the crowd in getting low to the ground, before rocketing back up. The song then evolved to, and ended in, a full-out dance party.
Taking every chance during the night’s performance Curless broke out in a vicious, possessed guitar solo. He’d be looking down the neck of his electric 6, taking aim at the crowd, eyes lost in the spotlight then jump back into position and blast back into reality behind the mic. Other times, the singer expertly picked at the lap steel guitar with one hand while working the organ with the other.
Nobody in this band is wasting any time. They made sure to get as much new music to the crowd as possible during a set that stretched over an hour. It’s important to note that we’ve seen the band restricted to 30 minute time slots all too often. Curless kept the crowd banter to a minimum, and Quinn was noticeably ready to play nearly every song without rests in between. He often indicated the start of the next song as soon as the previous song ended with four quick clicks of his drumsticks. They’re hungry.
At mid-set it had became obvious of the boy’s dedication to their new sound. EP songs that we’ve heard nearly every set for a year, “Summer Nights” and “Night in Jail”, became fully-realized with the inclusion of Curless on the slide guitar. And “Smokestack Lightening” was as tight as it’s ever been, evermore evident thanks to Reynolds’ bass lines. They’ve been practicing.
The band took a short breather to thank their fans, family and The Burl for their support. But then, Johnny Conqueroo blew us away with the encore opener and standout track “Aum,” another instrumental psych rock jam. During the song, Conqueroo took the crowd on a mellow smoky blues guitar journey before the tune crescendos into a mad, full-band sprint that had Curless mashing the organ keys with his guitar stand.
The Johnny Conqueroo you saw only a few months ago has grown up. Their debut LP Washed Up showcases the band at a pivotal moment in their young career. As their sound continues to evolve they’ll garner fans from all corners of rock n’ roll. No tour dates are currently announced for the new album. However, if Friday’s performance was any indication, these boys are just getting started, and are all but Washed Up.
Who Do You Trust?
Grey Man Ja
Night In Jail
Taking It Easy
Dancing With You