John Craigie and Langhorne Slim co-bill in Concord
Every John Craigie concert has two sides. His songs are sweet, lingering earworms, with lyricism that’s soothing, provocative and often hilarious. The latter trait is the other part of experiencing Craigie; his comedy talent has earned him comparisons to Mitch Hedberg, even though he’s a storyteller and Hedberg was an absurdist with a skill for the one-liner.
Both share a beat poet delivery. Marry that jazzy cadence to Arlo Guthrie’s breeziness and perhaps feed it an edible, and you’ll have a sense of why fans love Craigie, and the reason other musicians tend to find ways to work with him, such as Jack Johnson, Mary Chapin Carpenter and, most recently, Langhorne Slim.
The two met at last year’s Newport Folk Festival. Craigie played two sets that weekend. The second was a last-minute addition when another artist canceled their appearance. Billed as John Craigie & Friends, it consisted of Beatles songs. He’d just recorded Let It Be Lonely, the latest in a series of live Fab Four cover records; Revolver will be next.
Slim joined him for “I Dig a Pony,” and the two were quickly smitten. “We had mutual friends,” Craigie said by phone recently. “I’d never met him before, but we started talking and he agreed to do that one song with me, and it was really fun.” A short tour, stopping in Concord April 24, resulted.
“I’m really excited to have our crowds mix together and kind of bounce off each other,” Craigie continued. “He’s got a great stage presence, as you probably know. At the end of the night, we’ll do a handful of stuff together for sure…. I think the audiences really like that, because you get something that really makes the show unique.”
Layered with electric texture, Craigie’s studio albums are the opposite of his live shows. For example, “Microdose,” which leads off 2022’s Mermaid Salt, ends with a jazzy dreamscape of multiple guitars. That’s not happening when Craigie hits the stage. On tour, it’s typically just him and his instrument, which suits him fine.
“You’re still very free, and you can talk just as long as the crowd will have you, but when there’s four or five people, kinda twiddling their thumbs behind you, I’m not quite as relaxed,” he said, adding, “my audiences have never said to me, like, ‘Where’s the band?’ It seems to me that what they want is what I’ve been giving them.”
Born in Southern California, Craigie found his musical voice while attending UC Santa Cruz, a few hundred miles north. “L.A. felt very particular and precious; I didn’t feel very free to sit and play my guitar casually,” he said. In the laid-back beach town, “music felt like a much more natural thing … to sort of practice to an audience of people that was very nice, forgiving and pleasant.”
There’s a lot of religious skepticism in Craigie’s lyrics. “It’s a war of the gods … I never picked a side,” he sings at one point. “Is this the Rapture or just the first wave?” is his refrain on “Laurie Rolled Me A J,” one of the best depictions of lockdown neurosis to come out of the pandemic.
Some of this can be attributed to his attending parochial school in a milieu where “there was no way for them to shield us from anything,” he said. “A vague Christianity was how I like to call the way that the Catholics raised me.”
The ’90s milieu offered a weird melting pot of belief and non-belief systems, Craigie continued.
“Kids at that time were going through this born-again thing, so I was meeting hardcore Christians, getting that sort of window … meeting Mormons, people like that,” he said, “All that coming together gave me an understanding, while the society I was in was also heavily rejecting Christianity. I think it was a combination of all that stuff.”
Langhorne Slim & John Craigie
When: Monday, April 24, 8 p.m.
Where: Bank of NH Stage, 16 S. Main St., Concord
Tickets: $30.75 and $53.75 and up at ccanh.com
Featured photo: John Craigie. Photo by Keith Berson.