Mike Viola at John and Peter’s Place in New Hope, PA
April 27, 2023
The first thing I gotta say is that John and Peter’s Place, where Mike Viola had the opportunity to play on April 27th, is an amazing performance space. It’s legendary. Look around the room, and the walls are covered with posters featuring the luminaries who filled that tiny room in the past. And, John and Peter’s has a past – it’s been around since 1972. The occupancy sign stated that 55 patrons can safely share that room. I’m convinced the place was packed more fully than that, so it seemed – Mike actually invited whomever wanted to come sit down on the stage. That set the tone for the evening.
Actually, it didn’t. The soundcheck set the tone for the evening. When I arrived at the venue about 90 minutes before show time, the band was just setting up. My daughter and I were sitting at one of the tables that was directly in front of the stage – less than a yard away from where the vocal mic was set up. Mike announced that there would be a brief soundcheck, and it seemed like it was over pretty fast. A few tweaks. But, you could hear how incredible the band was going to sound. Appetite whetted.
The first time I saw Mike Viola, I had no clue who he was. The year was 1996. My daughter, who, at this show, was sitting across from me, was about eight weeks old at the time, and I was drained and bleary eyed from my first couple of months of fatherhood, and stoked for a couple of hours of “me-time”. Mike and his band The Candy Butchers were opening for Freedy Johnston, and while they did not totally upstage Freedy, they came mighty close. I remember almost nothing about the songs, except for one particularly clever mash-up of Neil Diamond’s “I Am… I Said” and Ozzy’s “Crazy Train.” That was enough to make me a fan for life. So, over the years, I bought the records, and my daughter heard them and liked them. Fast forward to 2023, this was her first time seeing Mike.
This made for the best pre-show energy I’d felt in a while.
Mike over-delivered. The show, which clocked in at a little under two hours, featured a generous helping of songs from Mike’s newest album “Paul McCarthy”. The three-piece band, featuring Mike on guitar, Jake Sinclair on bass and Brendan Urie on drums, was tight and energetic. Mike’s songs sound very complex – certainly harmonically so – there are no chords like Mike Viola chords, definitely rhythmically so, and Mike demonstrated his impressive guitar chops along with authentic and sometimes humorous vocal delivery. Mike’s songs carry a truckload of whimsy in the words, and his stage presence – authentic, easy-going, and very funny – complements the songs perfectly.
High points in the show for me were those moments I caught my daughter – who never sings – singing along to “Hunker Down” from the Candy Butchers album “Hang on Mike”. As a dad, I done good. “Scientist Alexis” from the new album rocked so hard it nearly tore the place down.
Mike’s short east coast run is over and done, and his appearances on this side of the country are pretty few and far between. Check out http://www.mikeviola.com to scan for future dates and don’t miss him next time!!!