PHOENIX — Justin Courtney Pierre returned to Arizona for an intimate underground show at the historic Valley Bar Friday night, revitalizing fans with a colloquial performance of his latest solo-album In The Drink. Since Motion City Soundtrack’s “So Long, Farewell Tour” in 2016, it had been unclear when and if Pierre would continue making music in the future.
“Post-MCS I just really wanted to focus on the art,” Pierre told Billboard during a recent interview, “so, I built a team of people around me that I can utilize for all the other stuff – the production, the business. What’s nice about this is I don’t have to ask anybody for permission or get four people to agree on whatever we’re doing. I can just do my ideas whether they’re stupid or not, for better or for worse. I thought, ‘OK, so if this is the only record I ever do, great. I’m just gonna do it exactly the way I want it.’“
Produced by Motion City Soundtrack bandmate Joshua Cain, In The Drink is heavily influenced by the sound of the 90’s, classic guitar and, as Pierre puts it, (in direct reference to noted inspirations Swervedriver, Polara, Guided By Voices, and Frank Black’s “Teenager of the Year”) “a lot of movement going on”.
During a coinciding interview with boutique pedal company ZVex, Pierre went on to explain the experimental nature of his work which he revealed, lead him to his newfound love affair with the ZVex Fuzz Factory 7, as well as the ZVex Effects Vertical Vexter ’59 Sound, which he utilized throughout Friday night’s performance. When it comes to guitar, this singer-songwriter prefers a more improvisonal approach – toying with different combinations until his fancy footwork yields a sound he likes.
Pierre’s tourmates for his latest solo album include old friend and master of effects – guitarist Thomas Rehbein, sensational vocalist and guitarist Lydia Liza, emotive bassist Shannon Burns, and relentless drummer David Jarnstrom.
“I’m listening to Flaming Lips in my headphones to drown out all this other bullshit”, Pierre joked before jamming out the opening notes to “I Don’t Know Why She Ran Away”, following opening tracks “Undone” and “Anchor”. “Just kidding!”, he laughed – noting that the night’s opener had been unable to make it due to an undisclosed transportation issue. As a result of that last minute change, the night became increasingly conversational. Fans shouted back and forth as Pierre responded between tracks from on-stage, speaking on everything from his struggles with alcohol, to new “dadhood”, and even his strong distaste for Burger King. Pierre casually guided the audience through an evening of impromptu storytelling between each new track from In The Drink, but not without some nostalgic surprises along the way.
Preceding the Farewell Continental portion of the evening, a tribute to Pierre and Rehbein’s passion project since 2008, “My Girl Margo” off a “special upcoming EP” got fans jumping for more. With the night’s energy at its peak, “Total Devastation” had diehard JCP fans weak in the knees.
Next up was a new Farewell Continental song that’s not yet been recorded. “It’s called ‘Tossing and Turning’”, Pierre told fans, “It’s a motif I’ve used before and I’m aware of that,” he laughed, “And I like to remind people, it’s supposed to sound like this.” Farewell Continental takes the undeniably esoteric undertones of In The Drink one step further, culminating a uniquely chaotic blend of power-pop-meets-classic-rock. The band finished out a lively performance of “Do You Wanna Tangle” also by Farewell Continental, before abruptly leaving the stage where only Pierre was left to tame the spotlight.
Without question, the moment we’d been waiting for since 2016 had finally arrived; it was time for a little Motion City Soundtrack. Pierre explained that since the band had chosen not to continue making music two years prior, he’d decided to play only MCS songs which he’d “brought to the party” so to speak. Members of the crowd shouted out track after track in hopes of hearing their longtime favorites. Pierre responded by teasing onlookers with a candid rendition of “Stand Too Close” before breaking for a quick story – “The Caffeine Story” he called it: “Listen, listen. I haven’t had a drink of alcohol in over nine years, and a few years after that I quit caffeine. And now I have nothing.”
As fans applauded, “Atonia” began rumbling out from the speakers. Fans sang along loudly as Pierre pieced together a nostalgic solo tribute session including “When You’re Around” and “LG FUAD”, to which the entire bar sang aloud. “Okay, now I am going to invite the band back to the stage,” Pierre announced before launching into a cover of Guided By Voices’ “Motor Away” which he credited as one of his favorite songs to date. “Some of these guys just heard it for the first time today,” he told fans as they hooted and hollered at Pierre to “do it again!”
The evening closed out with “Shoulder the Weight”, “In the Drink”, and “Goodnight Hiroyuki” – the last three tracks off of Pierre’s latest solo expressional, sending fans off with a phantasmal intermingling of sludgy, otherworldly tones. Rehbein could be seen sliding his guitar back and forth against everything from the guard rail to the speakers and even Liza’s guitar while her robust, angelic voice offered a sweet contrast to the whirlwind of instrumental experimentation unfolding on stage. “This is it. I love you all, except Kevin!”, Pierre exclaimed.
Following a staggering twenty track setlist, fans continued to swarm the stage in hopes of one more. Band members could be seen handing out copies of the setlist, and even notes from practice sessions to outstretched hands eager to claim their prize. Following the performance, Pierre stayed true to his reputation of being the down-to-earth artist we’ve all come to love and hung out to greet and take photos with anyone and everyone who chose to stick around. Although he was lacking in words (as he announced that he would not be speaking, in order to protect his voice), Pierre’s charismatic demeanor radiated off of him as fan after fan stepped up to meet the man of the hour.
After two years of wondering, Pierre took us back to the driving spirit and endearing authenticity behind what made Motion City Soundtrack great. It’s that permeating willingness – to care and connect with his fans, to tell the stories that need to be told, and if there’s one thing for sure, it’s that we absolutely cannot wait to see what this performer is up to next.
Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega
Justin Courtney Pierre – Valley Bar 11-30-18
Photography © Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
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