As the band grooves to what will become “I Want You,” Durand Jones walks on stage for a sold-out show at Bimbo's 365 on Wednesday, November 8th, saxophone raised in the air. But before he plays or croons out a single note, he sets down the sax to put on a watch, some jewelry, and a durag. This is his first tour as a solo artist for his debut album Wait Til I Get Over (Dead Oceans). As the frontman for Durand Jones and the Indications, Jones is probably best known for his gospel and soul-evoking vocals, but his musical training at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music was as a saxophonist, and listening to him blow recalls the central theme of the album and tour: coming home.
In a soft-spoken voice that contrasts with his Baby Huey-like belting, he introduces the audience to Hillaryville. His hometown in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin was “founded by eight slaves who received it as a form of reparations after the American Civil War” where most visitors are “greeted by the tall, sprite, green, green sugarcane.” His grandmother had always described Hillaryville as “the place you’d most want to live,” and Jones’s set weaves through the multiple relationships he, and we, have with home—nostalgia, rejection, longing, and fondness—and the multiple places where he, and we, can look for and hopefully find it—in family, in the arms of a lover, in believing in our own dreams.
Though Jones’s stage presence is at once forceful and playful—he spends instrumental breaks swinging the mic, shaking his hips, and lightly goading his bandmates—he mostly embodies tenderness. His vulnerability in finding home in queer Black love takes center stage as he grasps the mic stand singing “That Feeling,” the only breakup song he’s ever written, dedicated to saying goodbye to a Cajun boy he loved in his youth. Though one might not associate queer love with the gospel-infused sounds of Black southern soul, Jones masterfully shows how the music of the south cradles and sustains American music, just as the turns of the Mississippi River cradle Hillaryville.
Home is complicated and how Jones navigates his and our contradicting feelings about the concept connects his album to recent releases like Toro y Moi’s EP Sandhills, which details Chaz Bear’s return to his hometown in South Carolina, and Sufjan Stevens Javelin, which similarly contemplates queer love and loss. Jones’s rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free” reminds the crowd that what we seek when we seek home is freedom. Jones closed out his encore with another cover, Sean Paul’s contemporary reggae favorite “I’m Still in Love with You,” a seemingly joyful but ultimately bittersweet song reminiscent of Hillaryville’s sugarcane that Jones holds on the album cover: a crop inextricably linked to African enslavement throughout the Americas but also to freedom dreams, to “the place you’d most want to live.”