Jonah Yano is a master of silences, teasing them out of the purple, juxtaposing them with incisive intonation
Servant Jazz Quarters is sold out tonight. Purple air in the small venues basement pulses with anticipation. In the pre-gig chatter, I overhear a couple lauding Jonah Yano’s performance on a Color’s Show. It’s how I got into his stuff, too.
Fast-forward two years and here we are, in the heart of Dalston, where the alternative-soul band steps into view. It’s their first headline show, though they’ve supported Clairo on the last leg of her UK tour.
Jonah stands to the right, wearing a denim cap and shirt. A star-shaped, palm-sized cushion hangs from the end of his guitar. Chris Edmonson, on sax, stands level with him. He’s off-centre, despite the band name being his own. This is Jonah Yano and band, or perhaps Jonah Yano is the band – they share the name now.
They open the show with an instrumental tune, ‘verse’. A low, haunting hum hushes the crowd as it huddles in closer – there is nothing intimidating about Jonah Yano.
The tune’s got a jazzy oomph that reminds me of Alice Phoebe Lou. The band members dig it too – smiles stretch wide across their faces. The song is noisier than his early stuff – although its roots, him and his guitar, are still there.
Edmonson solos on sax, and the whole band bops along keenly as it builds. It’s (almost) always a joy to see a band having fun – they’re playing for themselves.
‘goodbye blue’ commences with Yano’s vocals. The words ring out, rippling at the tail-end like a dream upon wakeup, stirring and subtle, yet not fully formed. The words aren’t comprehensible, but the sentiment is.
The first notes from ‘delicate’ slide out from the guitar and audience ‘whoop!’s emerge, on cue. The band builds, only to cut out right before the chorus line. Quiet engulfs the room – save for Yano and his guitar. “Isn’t it so delicate?”… The band returns, dipping into an affirmed groove.
Dare I say it? He’s a master of silences, teasing them out of the purple, juxtaposing them with incisive intonation. It’s almost as if the silence is an instrument in and of itself – it’s more about what he leaves out than what he includes.
‘leslianne’ is for his mum, who’s come from Canada to be here. Who doesn’t love an artist’s parent in the audience? He’s likeable, to say the least. His soft, gentle manner conveys authenticity.
While Ben Maclean tunes his electric guitar, Yano points out how cosy the room is. Framed by the wooden beams which run along the ceiling, the band stands level with the audience. There’s a rare intimacy to the show, channelled by both the tiny venue and how laid back the band is.
It’s just small enough to host a grubby open mic, but self-aware enough (what with it being in Dalston and everything) to signal that more-than-open-mic’ers play here. I scribble away under the light of a candle I’ve claimed.
What draws me to ‘the speed of sound!’ is the end of the vocal lines, just as they linger. From a slicing cadence, they melt into a whisper before dissolving into silence.
A bass solo unfolds. At first, it sounds like someone at rehearsal messing around between songs. Leighton Harnell adjusts quickly though, and soon enough cheers shoot out.
“I want to thank my band for dedicating their lives to their instruments and being such awesome bandmates. I love you.”
‘always’ is next, “The way you left me feeling is the opposite of care/ it’s the opposite of care/ the opposite of care”. Truth floats up (we’ve all been there) rising with the sax, climaxing at a piercing yelp.
The quintet waltz into ‘haven’t haven’t’,“The room was filled with white/ and dust was in the air”. There’s a profound simplicity to Yano’s lyrics – profound in the depth of emotion they evoke.
Much like Adrianne Lenker told VICE in 2019, “You can say the thing without saying the thing, and that’s one of my favorite parts about writing”. The lyrics are accessible in communicating the mind-fields of love, identity and family relationships that we all experience in our own ways.
Jonah plays the next one – ‘song about the family house’ – solo. The most striking, in my opinion, it centres on the difficulty of moving out of a place filled to the brim with sentiment and souvenirs. “It’s about the house that my mum grew up in, that my grandparents lived in. It’s getting torn down for condos.”
After the performance, he shares with me that it’s one of the songs he’s most proud of. I can see why. Keep an eye out for this one. It bears the qualities of what I think music is at its best; causing something deep within you to stir, to vibrate with the realisation that, “I too, am alive!”.
“And how do I keep the living room intact?/ Exactly as it was?” Just think, my friend, think! of the people that now live in your home; how they dine at your kitchen table, cry under your shower, wank in your bedroom. Good stuff.
The band closes on ‘portrait of a dog’. It bears the name of their next LP, which drops in January ‘23.
They end on a high note. This is their last show on tour, and they give it their all. More so for themselves than to cast a particularly lasting impression on the audience – although it does the trick. They close on a sustained hum that rings out as hauntingly as the first which resounded.