If Gallon Drunk were merely a vehicle for James Johnston scuzzy, rock star fantasies then this alone would be enough for the band to succeed. Treating his guitars and organ like shit on stage, Johnson careers from one instrument to the other, grinding the neck of his guitar off the heads of selected audience members and writhing on the floor, consumed with squalling feedback and sleaze-ridden thrusts – the spirit of Dionysus is alive and well in this man’s soul.
Of course, there’s a lot more to Gallon Drunk than generic rock star poses. The pre-gig backing tape features the jittery, staccato sax-infused anti-rhythms of James Chance And The Contortions and The Pop Group serving as an ideal primer for Johnston’s similarly feral muse. Gallon Drunk emerged, presumably from the bowels of London’s filthiest barrooms, in the early nineties, earning plaudits for their swamp rock sound, versed in the lineage of The Birthday Party and Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s Gun Club. The fact that the band never crossed over to the extent of their more sedate affiliates Tindersticks may have more to do with Johnston’s shameless levels of extra-curricular activity rather than any lack of effort or talent on the band’s part. Initially stepping in for Blixa Bargeld on Nick Cave’s 1994 Lollapalooza tour, Johnston has been, variously, a part-time Bad Seed, a member of Faust and part of Big Sexy Noise with Lydia Lunch, amongst a host of other cameo appearances.
Gallon Drunk has been his only constant and 2012’s The Road Gets Darker From Here is the band’s eighth album, one which sees the band fully embracing an analogue sound, with evidence of crossover influence from Faust’s more experimental sounds. However, Tonight’s show at the Lexington is all raw, visceral debauchery spearheaded by Johnston and Terry Edwards on saxophone, percussion and occasional organ stabs. New single You Made Me is propelled by an insistent riff, alternating between Johnston’s guitar and Edwards’ sax, I Just Can’t Help But Stare slouches along menacingly with an explosive coda, the brass sounds peaking with Johnston effortlessly on organ and guitar simultaneously.
For a band over twenty years into their career, playing early cuts may seem a chore but Gallon Drunk blasted out the likes of Arlington Road, Jake On The Make and Push The Boat out with almost frightening ferocity. And Some Fool’s Mess, that early clarion call of drunken revelry was simply incendiary, Johnston berating and exhorting the audience, at all times anchored by mainstay Ian White’s pummelling drumming, a man whom surely was limbless and lifeless after his senseless kit-battering. The road may be getting darker for Gallon Drunk but tonight’s display of guttural rock n’ roll was more than enough ignition to fuel everyone’s rock star dreams.