By Stephen Bradley
WASHINGTON, January 9, 2014 – Whenever singer/songwriters appear at the 9:30 Club, there is a certain kind of hush that falls upon the audience that seems to fit the hazy, misty atmosphere the venue casts on such performers. The best of these artists easily to tap into this venue’s eerie feel while they are on stage, something that felt especially true for the duo known as the Saint Johns as they sat down to perform during their recent 9:30 Club appearance.
“Haunting” is perhaps the best word to describe the Saint Johns. When artists are performing at the peak of their ability, they are able to pull out all the emotional stops in an audience, including those deep-seated feelings buried well below the conscious surface.
This is the space the Saint Johns occupy when they perform, as evidenced by their recent appearance here. It matters little how personal or universal their songs might seem to be. They project the music and the lyrics with such sincerity that their connection with the audience is almost instantaneous. Without even seeming to realize it, they have the audience hanging on every emotionally-tortured note they play, an amazing effect that, we suspect, neither of these artists could achieve on their own.
The Saint Johns—the duo of Louis Johnson and Jordan Meredith—originally met in their home state of Florida. While Johnson was trying to impress Meredith with some improvised guitar playing, one thing led to another, turning their meeting into a jam session of dueling guitars between two simpatico musicians. The story seems to illustrate the sound they produce and how it effects their lives and performances even today.
Does this mean they are competitive on stage? Not really. This is a pair of fine musicians who randomly discovered a connection with one another through their music. It is a connection that comes out at every turn when they play because it is hard to imagine two people being as in sync as Johnson and Meredith are when they perform live on stage.
The key component of the Saint Johns’ style is their intriguing and often complex vocal interplay. The fun of hearing them live is to sense just how much the duo diversifies their sound and textures within the context of relatively simple material. It’s not just that they harmonize on every song. It’s how they constantly change things up by divvying up parts of songs, or by playing off one another in a meticulously precise rat-a-tat-tat exchange. Their varied vocal textures give the Saint Johns’ collective output a mesmerizing effect when they’re performing live.
Combining the unique quality of their vocals with their refusal to adhere to one specific style gives the Saint Johns’ music a haunting, sorrowful, yet hopeful appeal. The way they come across on stage gives the audience the sense that Johnson and Meredith have been musically and emotionally intertwined for their entire lives even though they have been performing together for just a few years. It’s a remarkable and memorable accomplishment.