A ticket to a Theo Katzman show should come with a warning: “While we enjoy and encourage you to sing along with our songs during the performance, do not attempt to match Theo’s falsetto. Doing so may cause physical harm and permanent damage to not only your vocal cords, but also the hearing of those nearby.”
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Taking a break from the zany, grooved out jams of his main band Vulfpeck, Katzman arrived at Crystal Bay’s Crown Room on Jan. 17 in support of his latest solo project, “Modern Johnny Sings: Songs in the Age of Vibe.” The multi-instrumentalist brought along a tight band including beloved Vulfpeck bassist Joe Dart and keyboardist Lee Pardini from the L.A. band Dawes.
Fortunately for the Crown Room attendees last Friday, Theo channeled Modern Johnny through 11 of the record’s 12 cuts. Leading off with societal finger-poking tunes “(I Don’t Want To Be A) Billionaire,” and “You Could Be President,” the perky jaunts filled the room with the tongue-in-cheek snark and energy one might expect to pop up at a Vulfpeck show.
But Katzman’s songwriting really came through, and he fronted the band alternately between guitar and keys, playing it straight and tender. The toned down grooves of “Darlin’ don’t Be Late,” “Fog In The Mirror” and “What Did You Mean (When You Said Love)” highlighted his seemingly effortless falsetto, a pleasing aural cocktail of Mraz, Timberlake and Jackson in a key all his own.
The 19-song set also mixed in favorites from the 2017 release “Heartbreak Hits.” Unlike the band he co-founded while at the University of Michigan, there was a minimum of instrumental breakout and only one brief solo from the aforementioned Dart.
Don’t get me wrong, the crazy clown-car unloading and loading of artists in different roles at a Vulfpeck show is a blast. But this performance, in its most stripped down and vulnerable moments, was a soulful vocal and musical treat made all the more special by Katzman spending unrushed time chatting with fans at the merch table afterward.
Even in the thin and dry air of the Lake Tahoe Basin, Katzman verified for any disbelievers that he is is no autotune cowboy, and a talented songwriter to boot.
— Michael Smyth
You Could Be President
(I Don’t Want To Be A) Billionaire
Break Up Together
The Death Of Us
Good To Be Alone
Lily of Casablanca
Like A Woman Scorned
Fog In The Mirror
My 1 Bedroom
What Did You Mean (When You Said Love)
Darlin don’t Be Late
Crappy Love Song
Plan Jane Heroin
My Heart Is Dead
All’s Well That Ends Well