It's well after sundown and the temperature's a soggy 80 degrees at the Cistern and the bugs are hovering in droves around the spotlights near the looming oak trees and Johnnyswim has just taken the stage.
The husband-wife songwriting duo Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano exchange glances teeming with enough love to rupture the most callous heart. “This is what we do,” Ramirez says, and he starts strumming.
The pair, backed by a bass guitarist and drummer, jump right into a rollicking, bouncing tune, the four-chord guitar rhythm rolling like a bus on schedule while the cymbals tap-tap-tap and Sudano sways back and forth, looking at the audience but clearly serenading her husband: “I feel it when my heart beats / Every time my heart beats.”
The sultry love tunes disperse into the humid outdoor air like lovers' breaths. Musically and lyrically, Johnnyswim sticks to simple repetition. The same four chords will ring out for three uninterrupted minutes and Ramirez and Sudano will go back and forth with declarations of inextirpable devotion.
Johnnyswim isn't virtuosic in anything except love, and that's essentially the foundation of all of their songs, all of their banter, all of their musings. But love is all you need, right?
When Ramirez reels back and unleashes a voice-cracking yelp, strumming those same chords in that same adulating, unwavering rhythm, Sudano stares at him longingly, her knees jutting out from below her white dress and reaching towards Ramirez, her feet moving about melodically. She tugs on her long black hair and tilts her head and, even if you hate the music, even if the pop aesthetic grates and the lyrics are so simple they make Raymond Carver seem verbose, you can't deny the warmth radiated by this pair.
They're so in love the music comes second — the anti-White Stripes.
Watching Johnnyswim perform is sort of like being privy to a private living room concert (“except I'm usually in sweats and he's not wearing a suit and food is usually involved,” Sudano quipped at one point). Their songs do absolutely nothing new or different; they display no affinity for innovation. But they're so earnest it almost hurts. It makes you want to turn around and fall in love with the first person you make eye contact with. Maybe that's a great accomplishment in itself.
Greg Cwik is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.