Johnny Lloyd @ The Bodega

Former indie rock frontman turned acoustic heartbreaker Johnny Lloyd captivates a Wednesday night Bodega crowd with a mix of recent balladry and Tribes favourites.

An album supposedly drafted during a love-soaked period in his life, Johnny Lloyd’s latest full-length Next Episode Starts in 15 Seconds unveiled itself as the solemn, moody record which always lay somewhere in the core of Lloyd’s Tribes songwriting, yet with a fresh, folky edge and a more honest emotional tone. The crunching electric guitar notes were replaced by the sorrowful squeal of a harmonica, the drums which once drove restless rock songs made redundant at the hands of the steel strings and an innate skill for immersive storytelling. 10 distinct yet idiosyncratically catchy folk songs, Next Episode put Lloyd on the map once again as a touring musician and album of the year contender.

"Solo material was treated with the same passion and prowess as on the studio records and Tribes material naturally garnered itself new, unprecedented directions."

And it is in that raw, unspoilt vein that Lloyd presents himself at the show. Dressed simply in a white t-shirt and jeans and sporting colloquial stage-chat often designed for intrigued Tribes historians (make-it-or-break-it stories of Malibu studio sessions and youthful naivety were aplenty), Lloyd drew the night in around the admiring faces in the crowd, and played off of a different emotional wavelength with each song, not once breaking the fourth wall between the stories to be told and the mid-week ambience of The Bodega.

Coming together into a sonically consistent set, solo material was treated with the same passion and prowess as on the studio records and Tribes material naturally garnered itself new, unprecedented directions as a result of the stripped-back set-up. In 2016’s Happy Humans, Lloyd drifted from verse lyric to verse lyric with ethereal grace before setting up the cynical singalong hook, whilst any semblance of angst in early Tribes single We Were Children was recalled with a degree of maturity and perspective, yet still nostalgically galvanising a very game crowd.

"[Johnny Lloyd's] dreams and destiny are clear as day: performing stunning live music."

However, it had to be the built-for-purpose Next Episode material which stole the show and the attention of punters with unrelenting serenity. In Fix, Lloyd let the intermittent harmonica draw out the gritty observations of the lyrics in Dylan-esque fashion, his winding, jaundiced storytelling and lonesome stage presence reminiscing Townes Van Zandt’s Tecumseh Valley. I Need Help was just as deprecating as the Wednesday night air, and thus any lighthearted stage patter was blown away by the foremost guitar notes, paving the way for Lloyd’s lovesick wail. There’s a certain caution which cloaks Lloyd’s songwriting even at its brighter moments, and the desaturated blue of the family portrait Next Episode album cover clouded the positive musings of the bittersweet lyricism moreso in a live setting without any human or instrumental accompaniment besides the guitar and harmonica.

Image courtesy of Natasha Pzenicki

Opting for Next Episode’s title track as a dependable closer, the more topically oriented catalogue song from the February release tied the knot on a tight but varied set spanning Johnny Lloyd’s eight years in the industry. The learned sentiments of hook “The world it keeps on turning, even when you’re living your dreams” never seemed more pertinent than in the staple Nottingham venue on a lukewarm September evening. With a life which likely gestures towards the Hollywood Hills a tad more than the rest of us, when Johnny Lloyd is up on stage with nothing but a guitar, harmonica and his distinctly emotive voice, his dreams and his destiny are clear as day: performing stunning live music.