Martin's Lounge is one of the last true dives in town, and one of the only places around here where you can still light up a cigarette inside. John takes full advantage of this, chain-smoking as he paces from table to table, pausing for no more than five minutes at a time to talk to friends and fans.
An attractive woman approaches John. She politely refuses to take a seat as she explains she was born in France, and now lives in Houston. Two days ago she heard Bass Drum of Death was playing in Jackson, and booked a flight.
"No shit," John says.
"No what?" she asks.
"That's just impressive, is what I mean. Well, fuck. Thanks for coming out here."
John finishes his cigarette and excuses himself for a last-minute sound-check.
A crowd including the French Houstonian is already gathered near the stage by the time I make my way to the back of the bar. John stands near an exit staring at his phone, finishes his beer and ducks out the fire exit. A kid in front of me lights a blunt and passes it around to his friends. He looks at me and smiles.
"GB City," he says, referring to, among other things, the name of John's first album.
John quit getting blazed shortly after the LP's release. Weed gives him panic attacks now.
Rich Boy's "Throw Some D's" begins as Bass Drum of Death reenters the room and walks on stage. As the song's low-end kicks in, John situates himself and looks around the room. The French Houstonian is losing her shit.
"We're Bass Drum of Death from Oxford, Mississippi. Thank you guys so much for coming out tonight," he says.
John plays fast as his echoing drawl slides through "Get Found," "I Wanna be Forgotten" and "Bad Reputation." He sings himself hoarse. "Well, I've wasted all my time / trying to make you mine," he sings during "Shattered Me," "and I know it's not OK / I can't find that perfect line."
Bass Drum of Death plays a few, early versions of songs that will eventually wind up on John's fourth release, "Rip This," which comes out this week. This latest album is his most focused, most concise so far. It's somehow both lean and large-scale, with all the sincerity he's been looking for over the past three records. The blog gods may sneer, but the ones who care, the ones John hopes for, won't.
He thanks the crowd repeatedly, and at one point jokes with a friend in the front row. Two years ago, when I first saw Bass Drum of Death, John was silent apart from his lyrics, glowering from the stage when his hair wasn't obscuring his face. He wants you to know who he is now.