John Jacob Magistery have been part of the Montreal scene for about two years though so far only releasing their 2014 EP Narcissism Unto Loneliness. Folk in essence, band leader Johnny Griffin weaved stories with a band comprising guitars, violin, keys, drums, and bass. Appearing on their second show of their Montreal Jazz Fest Concert Intimes series, JJM showed up with a 5-piece set up: Griffin (lead vocals, guitar), Mackenzie Myatt (violin, keys, vocals), Francois Jalbert (guitars, keys, vocals), Anthony Lombardi (drums), and Antoine Ferron (bass, cello). All of the aforementioned EP’s songs were played and well received from the recognising crowd. ‘Key of Good’ was given a ‘remix’, though the Kanye West that Griffin jokingly said was on it never materialised.
For the band though, what they wanted to celebrate was their new album, released concurrently with their Jazz Fest shows, Phantom i / Are You Too Sensitive?. The question for the audience was, how have the two years been used? It turns out that a stint in Ireland has injected quite a bit of bite into the repertoire. Indeed, some songs sounded ready for the rock arenas of the world. Most of this is due to Jalbert, who didn’t play on Narcissism. Watching him play is like watching a Rubik’s cube champion, often channeling what I thought were Dessner brother flourishes on songs such as ‘Carol’ and ‘Voices From The Other Side’. Rightly credited as a maestro by Griffin, Jalbert didn’t seem to even drop a sweat whilst playing soaring melodies or crashing rhythms.
The other star of the show was undoubtedly Myatt. One may harbour hesitation towards the violin, especially in rock settings. It’s an instrument too often used (like vocal harmonies of which there was a fair but not extreme that night) as a folk rock crutch, too easily transforming rock bands into arcadian choirs. However, JJM use the violin in the right settings. ‘Diamond In A Cave’ featured a spine-chilling moment as Myatt plucked away, like elves tiptoeing to heaven.
A Concert Intime suggests one settle into their snug sweater and shoes meant for soft carpeting, tinkles wine glasses with care, leans back in their chair. For the most part, JJM were louder than that, using silence and chaos as though ignorant of the small setting. However, a moment of tender magic was allowed when the band decided to step off the stage into the middle of the crowd and play two acoustic songs: ‘Death Of Cool’ and ‘Allow Her’. The latter, not on the debut album, had Griffin croon, yelp, and scream. Over and above the delicate lyrics, there’s the raw emotion that flows out of Griffin and it was a pleasure to hear. This band can go places. I hope they do.