Folk-punk’s sweatiest rogue rides a tiger to victory
by Chris Morin
Hamilton’s B.A. Johnston could be called the Don Rickles of Canadian folk-punk. If you’ve ever strayed too close to the front of the stage during one of his infamous performances, you’ll understand: it’s half music, half comedy and all heckle.
But he’s not just a master of the one-liner, the zinger and the proverbial pie-in-the-face. Johnston’s songwriting skills remain criminally underestimated. His seemingly silly tunes are filled with razor-sharp wit, and often pinpoint truths about modern society. (For proof, look no further than “Eye of the Douchestorm,” from 2012’s Hi Dudes!)
There are plenty of gems to be found on his latest album, Mission Accomplished. Singing over either a simply strummed acoustic guitar or the pre-programmed beats of a cheap Casio keyboard, Johnston makes even the silliest of topics sound sublime. Heady issues addressed this time around are those terrible hash browns from Tim Hortons, getting day-drunk and Luke Skywalker being a total wiener.
And let’s not forget the cover art. Mission Accomplished features an artist’s rendition of a Conan-esque Johnston, sword drawn, riding a tiger while Toronto burns in the background.
What’s up with that?
“If I was sure that no one would be hurt, I’d really love to blow Toronto up,” he says. “It’s a terrible place in that so many people move there because supposedly there are jobs there. But then they spend all their money on a $5 million no-window basement apartment and eat ramen noodles for every meal.
“Plus, I always get parking tickets when I play there. That makes me angry.”
Mission Accomplished is a refreshing listen compared to cookie-cutter Mumford and Sons faux-indie-folk crap.
Johnston says the songs are transformed when they’re played on stage.
“The live show and the record are two different beasts,” says Johnston. “Let’s just say that I wouldn’t want to listen to a live B.A. recording. The records are usually a little more, I want to say, listenable. Or maybe it’s just better. I figure that if anyone had to listen to me play guitar for 30 minutes straight they would probably get bored.”
Mission Accomplished has 17 infectious, easy-to-sing-along-to songs. It’s not a reinvention of the indie-folk wheel — Johnston hasn’t strayed too far from the formula that has carried him through nine albums— but there are a few new instrumental flourishes this time around. Like the trucker-style bluegrass licks on the AM-country-radio-esque “Crushing Coke Cans, Counting Dead Raccoons.”
A typical B.A. Johnston performance sees him in various stages of nudity, berating the audience while executing pants-defying mid-air crotch grabs. He’s also been known to pack up the entire gig, audience included, and move everything into the men’s washroom.
“My new goal is to not screw up too much. If I can play the whole minute-and-a-half song without messing up, then that’s the new antic,” he says.
“Of course, I’m still going to do the same old antics.” Thank gawd.