Last time Josephine Network performed in Richmond the world was in limbo.
Their show the night before in D.C. had been a weird one, colored by the one-two punch of the breaking news that America’s Everyman, Tom Hanks, had COVID and that the NBA season was canceled until further notice. What, if anything, this meant for a six-piece band from Queens, NY only one day into their first U.S. tour wasn’t immediately clear to themselves or anyone else. Within the next 24 hours Governor Northam would declare a state of emergency and Josephine Network would cancel their tour and drive home, but not before performing a memorable set at Bandito’s Burrito Lounge…
Even under normal circumstances, you could expect a surreal show from Josephine —a self described shape-shifting drag yenta— and her band, Josephine Network. At Richmond’s longstanding Mexi-Cali rockabilly sports bar in the Devil’s Triangle, on the brink of a nationwide shutdown, the effect was outright Lynchian. Some wore masks and kept their distance, others reveled as if Armageddon was already underway. But everyone present witnessed the bands’ spectacular balladry, a confection of ‘60s pop, bubble gum and girl group-inspired, along with ‘70s soul and power pop to the gills.
Joined by Piranha Rama and Brower (who share members with Josephine Network) it was a lot of show by any measure. If there couldn’t be any more in-person concerts for a while, this one made for a hell of a last hurrah. Full disclosure: I already liked Josephine Network’s music prior to ever seeing the band in concert, so much so that I released their debut album, “Music is Easy,” in the fall of 2020.
Josephine kept busy during the shutdown and subsequent waves, as best she could muster from a creatively impinged social vacuum. Her solo livestream show was a beacon in the earliest days of stopping the spread, followed by a dazzling full band video performance filmed in separate locations and edited together like a heaven-sent Zoom meeting. Next, for the pièce de résistance, came “Stocky Tunes,” a self-recorded collaboration album between Josephine and the Networks’ Hershguy. Much a product of the times, “Stocky Tunes” consists of opposing moods and by turns, showcases Josephine and Hershguy at their most playfully irreverent and agitated. If it’s not the best Yiddish punk album ever, it’s at least a prime example of the canon, with tracks like “No Macher”, “Shtik Fleysh” and “Cockamun.” Then last fall, “This American Life” featured Josephine Networks’ song “Music is Easy” on an episode of the perennially popular radio show, which host Sean Cole introduced by sharing “For me, this is one of those earworms that I’m delighted to have in my ear all the time.”
Most kismet—and directly related to our present interest in Josephine Networks’ triumphant return to Richmond—was Shannon Shaw discovering the band and inviting them to join Shannon and the Clams on their now imminent spring tour. The pairing is as obvious as it is inspired; two genre-bending groups mining vintage sounds with new break-the-mold spins all their own. A caption from a recent post on Shannon and the Clams’ Instagram featuring a selfie of Josephine and Shannon reads: “Josephine mailed me a record in the early part of the pandemic and it really hit me in the best way! This is official boogie music! This is lift up your spirits and sing along music. This is it’s gonna get better music!”
Fast forward to now, and Josephine Network are set to return to town supporting Oakland’s Shannon and the Clams, April 22 at the Broadberry. “When the last tour was canceled due to the lockdown we were devastated. After some time reflecting and practicing we have readied ourselves for the road again and we’re so happy to come back to Richmond and rock for the people again!” Josephine shared with me via text.
After all that, I can’t make it to the show, so I implore you to go!
Shannon and the Clams performs with Josephine Network and Strawberry Moon on Friday, April 22 at the Broadberry. Doors at 7 p.m. show at 8 p.m. Admission is $20-$25 or more for VIP seating. thebroadberry.com