The lyrics to Genesis' "The Last Domino" might be interchangeable with a lot of other post-apocalyptic prog rock: a world where there is "Blood on the windows ... Take a look at the beautiful river of blood" leads up to the War of the Worlds realization that "Their bodies dissolve and I am alone." But if such songs sound contrived and cheesy to some listeners, "The Last Domino" hit Indianapolis singer-songwriter John Orr at just the right time - it was the first album he bought, and became a cultural touchstone that he compares to The Goonies for its power of conjuring an evocative fantasy world. And just when he was trying to figure his life out - creatively, existentially - after four post-college months in Chicago that left him troubled and lonely, the song took on new meaning. "It was actually a horrendously, brutally trying time for me, and I went through some shit," Orr explains about his return to his hometown of Indianapolis, when he first began to write songs under his moniker The Last Domino. "So when I was writing that first EP, I wanted to call it The Last Domino, because it does have an uplifting feeling for me: It could seem lonely, or if you turn it around to say, there are a row of dominoes in a line, and the last one sees this whole word tumbling down in front of him, what's a person to do? Are they going to fall down or stand their ground?"
Orr has stood his ground, making his solo project work during that period of recuperation and revitalization, and maintaining that energy ever since. The multi-instrumentalist doesn't lack for hustle, keeping up a constant local touring schedule (both all-ages and 21-plus), acting in a full-length independent film and working up a double album, Diamond Days and Firenights, set for release at two shows this weekend, Friday night at the ES Jungle, 6151 N. Central Ave., and Saturday night at Locals Only, 2449 E. 56th St.
After the work involved in putting together the double album, Orr thought he was ready for a break, but then he got the call from the long-lost spirit of Jeff Buckley (or at least those planning for his tribute shows). So the moment of rest will be delayed, and Orr will head to Chicago to play the 11th annual Jeff Buckley Tribute Festival at Uncommon Ground Nov. 17-18.
And speaking of commitment, Orr recently had black dominoes with powder blue diamonds tattooed on the inside of his arms. Each domino numbers 11, which might also be read as 11:11, the uncanny time that is also the title for the first track of Diamond Days. The last track of the double album is "12:34", matching the album's one hour and 23 minute running time. The album - which Orr says was inspired by coherent (though not necessarily concept) double albums like The Smashing Pumpkins' 1996 breakout Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness - maintains a bedrock alt-rock sound while exploring different genres (the drinking song, a waltz, Appalachian folk, more stripped down singer-songwriter material) and tracing a path lyrically from naiveté and confinement to self-awareness and freedom (from the "snowglobe" to the "breakout," name the titles of the two discs).
Orr, 26, began his musical life playing the saxophone in school (which he still counts in an arsenal that also includes bass, drums and keyboards) and with pop-punk bands in his hometown of Carmel. After returning to Indianapolis and starting his solo project, Orr picked up what was supposed to be a temporary spot playing bass with local hardcore band Bolth, which he says was a "blast" and a chance to "jump around and scream a lot." He's since moved on from that band, although he still plays shows for all-ages crowds that are full of predominantly punk and hardcore fans.
Orr also records under the name Kid Overdrive, a side project devoted to video game covers and synth-punk. The full-length, 2006's Get Equipped with Kid Overdrive, features 18 covers of songs from the NES Megaman series that flesh out eight-bit sounds with guitar (most of the melodies), bass, drums, cheap synths and a little sax.