by Chris Berggren
The Jehovah's Witness Protection Program has a great band name--and knows how to have a good time. The Ypsilanti duo, featuring Anthony Anonymous on guitar and vocals and Jehan Dough on drums (those are their "protection program" surnames--they were born Gentile and Burki), play a filthy hard-rock style that borrows from punk and metal in both sound and attitude. Anthony's guitar work is fast and rough, and he makes use of foot pedals to create riff loops to either play over top of or take a break from playing all together. Jehan, meanwhile, does little more than beat the crap out of his drum kit with wild but astute ferocity. That's the band in a gist, but a JWPP show is much more involved.
They take the stage at Woodruff's with beers in hand. It's been a long night of music, and the JWPP's set is starting after midnight. Before any music is played, a shot arrives for Anthony. "I don't want to do it by myself," he mumbles to no one in particular, before turning to the audience and asking, "Who wants to go buy a shot and do it with me?" He asks several more times, until finally a shot partner materializes and the alcohol is deposited. JWPP then jumps into a fast-paced punkish song that involves the lyric "I want to fight," which eventually breaks down to Anthony just yelling "Fight!" while pumping his fist into the air. The effect is immediate. The crowd loves it, and wild dancing ensues.
The second song sounds like some sort of mixture of psychedelic grunge and punk with humor. Anthony sings a lyric comparing eyes to lasers, his own eyes bugging out of a face that appears to be a strange cross between Jerry Garcia and Charles Manson. His guitar riff has been looped, and he eventually puts the guitar down to concentrate fully on his screeching vocals. After the song, he takes another shot (this time he
has no qualms about taking it solo) and makes a shocking announcement: "We're gonna play another ten minutes, but that's the best we got." He even mentions that perhaps it's a good time to catch a smoke break.
No one goes anywhere, and the next song is the musical highlight of the set. It's slower and has more intricate guitar parts, along with bursts of frenzied playing. Again, Anthony loses the guitar partway through, and the music is sustained by his recorded loop and Jehan's smashing beats. After the song ends, Anthony looks spent, but asks, "Hey, have we done 'Well Song' yet?" Apparently none of the prior three was "Well Song," so that's the next selection.
While Anthony does everything in his power to downplay the band's ability, the audience clearly has a great time. One guy with dreadlocks stands out, as he's spent the band's first three songs feverishly dancing with a large mascot-style rabbit head over his own. I can only imagine that it must be hot inside with all that hair and minimal ventilation. He suddenly loses the rabbit head, however, and moments later he's sitting up on stage on Anthony's amplifier, thrashing his dreads and kicking his feet. This seems to amp up the crazy level. He eventually leaves his perch, and, doing a dance that vaguely resembles a man drowning, he ambles across the stage and joins Anthony in the chorus: "What you gonna do when the well runs dry ..." This incites a stage invasion, and the song ends with a dozen extra people on stage singing along.
And that's JWPP in a snap; not necessarily groundbreaking, but gritty, fun, and a damn entertaining bar band. JWPP is back at Woodruff's on Friday, July 22.
[Originally published in July, 2011.]