John Mark McMillan’s Tongues of Fire Tour: Atlanta Show Review
The Blue Indian stopped by Centerstage Atlanta’s Vinyl venue on a grey Sunday evening 9/20. It was only the second stop for John Mark McMillan’s Tongues of Fire tour across the Southeast. The last time we crossed paths with JMM was a low-key acoustic show in Chattanooga. But a much different sound and scene awaited us in Atlanta.
Vinyl is tucked away on W. Peachtree St. in Midtown Atlanta. Before eight o’clock, this dark, L-shaped room packed in a maxed out crowd. The dust on the hardwood floor got kicked up by an assortment of Toms and shuffling chukkas. Over at the merch table, the bass player, Jeremy Ryan Smith works his shift that night selling soft cotton tees, CDs, and vinyls. Beside that was a Hydrating Humanity booth working to get water to a thirsty world. It didn’t take long before there wasn’t much room to move.
The quaint, somewhat small stage was loaded down with all the sound equipment it could carry. The dimly lit drum kit was stout with roto toms and cymbals. The drums seemed like the muscle-car engine to power this band’s sound tonight. John Mark’s Tongues of Fire tour pulls mainly from his Borderland album, which delivers a heavy dose of percussion and bottom end. Lining the stage’s left wall was a row of electric guitars standing at attention. The center mic rested on a boom stand taller than the rest but just right to catch the voice of a well over six foot JMM.
After the opening act the Brilliance (a blend of keys, cello, and sample/percussion pad that’s heavy on vibes and contemplative lyrics) cleared out, the antsy crowd waited for the sound they showed up to hear. With the stage still dark, JMM gently opened the set with a chorus from “Counting On.” Then the lights flashed and guitars roared out the riff from “Guns/Napoleon.” The red-haired, red-bearded drummer, Jesse Proctor, fired blows upon the drum set that brought the Borderland album to life.
JMM is a rock n’ roll believer at heart, a self-avowed student of the Springsteen school of honest, passionate songs for the people. And tonight the band was on a mission to deliver as much sound into that crowded venue as it could hold. So often a band’s live performance amounts to a rough draft interpretation of the music from the album they are touring on. A song delivered live is often exempt from the flawless expectations of album quality, a kind of give and take between the audience and the artist. But at the Vinyl in Midtown, we heard JMM and the Borderland album in its purest and most excellent form: in the now, in the moment. Jeremy Ryan Smith bounced around the stage with punk rock in his veins. A crisp, smooth lead crooned out from the hip of the guitarist, Price Stevens. Even above the drums and synth keys, John Mark McMillan’s rugged voice carried the fullest sound from the speakers. Dressed in a full grey suit and laced with sweat, JMM commanded the stage and the sound like a Civil War general’s voice above the fray. The band brought hot energy and excellence with every song proving John Mark McMillan as one of the leading independent artists to catch live.
Sept. 25 – Tallahassee, FL (Genesis Church)
Sept. 27 – Birmingham, AL (WorkPlay) *
Sept. 28 – Memphis, TN (Christ United Methodist Church) *
Sept. 29 – Knoxville, TN (Concord United Methodist Church) *
Sept. 30 – Chattanooga, TN (The Camp House) *
* With The Brilliance
Nov. 6 – Costa Mesa, CA (ROCKHARBOR)
Nov. 9 – Riverside, CA (Evermore Church)
Nov. 12 – Redding, CA (The Stirring)
(More West Coast dates to be announced soon)
Additional Upcoming Shows:
Tonight – Sept. 18 – Boone, NC (Black Canvas Event – Special JM Solo Acoustic Show)
Oct. 4 – Mt. Berry, GA (Berry College – w/ special guest Jude Moses)
For tickets and tour details, visit www.johnmarkmcmillan.com/tour.