Joseph Arthur 02/15/11
Bootleg Theater – Los Angeles, CA
Words/Photos by Reverend Justito
As the rain began to fall on the South Land, I once again headed east towards downtown Los Angeles for a night with Joseph Arthur. A lack of sleep, a stressful week at the day job and the fact I was fresh out of business cards wasn’t going to stop me from missing night two of Arthur’s month long run at Bootleg Theater. While some may argue that GENTRIFICATION from Echo Park has hit this neighborhood, I once again witnessed events on my drive that made this sixFOOTtwo 200+ pound white boy cringe. Yet like I said last week, its Joseph f’n Arthur and he’s worth it.
Before I had a chance to hand over the $12 cover fee, I heard something familiar from last week. It was the soft sounds of the two nameless guys who play before the posted start time. I stood for a few minutes watching, but then decided my time would be better spent exploring the back room where various paintings of Arthur are being displayed. I will say that the band mentioned their name at the end of the set, but unfortunately I couldn’t quite make the name out. I know it starts with a W and I believe they said their name was Whine. Perhaps if we cross paths in two weeks, I can nail this information down and finally give them proper credit.
The main support act for the evening was Nashville based folk indie pop singer/songwriter Madi Diaz (and her pal Keith). Before the duo had a chance to perform a single song, Diaz had won me over with her charming stage banter. Stalling for time while the soundman worked on Keith’s malfunctioning guitar, Diaz joked about jogging, lunch and at what point in the work week it becomes acceptable to eat BBQ (for the record, if you work in Burbank it’s Wednesday when Smokin’ Willie’s BBQ Truck comes to town). Once the problem was corrected, we were underway for a set of music that ended up being far more impressive then the stage banter.
I always fear when I see a duo get up on stage with nothing more than acoustic guitars and vocal chords. Any asshole(s) can get up and play a few chords while expressing their inner most thoughts via verse/chorus/verse format. However, it takes true talent and a little bit of luck to stir emotions deep in one’s soul and thankfully for Keith and Madi they have been blessed with both. While I am unable to tell you exact song titles, I can tell you that the set consisted of songs about relationships with the one you love. There was the break up song, and then there was the make out song and who could forget the soft sad song which featured a special guest appearance by some stupid hipster in the crowd cracking open a can of PBR?
While the duo may only have limited instrumentation, each song took a very different sonic journey thanks to the use of various tunings and style of play. One song was almost punk rock in nature with the quick and powerful strumming of power chords, while the next song would feature flamenco inspired finger picking. It’s rare I write three paragraphs about an opening act, but Madi (and Keith) could have very well headlined on this particular night. Their music moved the collective soul of all in the converted warehouse; and as the duo exited the stage you just knew that all those folks reaching for their phones were texting friends to share what they had just discovered.
I’ll spare you the details on the drunken hipster dressed like a sailor who almost got his ass kicked for talking shit about my Iron Maiden shirt and get straight to the main event. Hailing from Akron, Ohio by way of New York City, Joseph Arthur took to the stage with his tag team partner for the night – Blues Explosion drummer Russell Simins at 10pm sharp. By the time the two were bashing out the final notes of the opening number “Black Lexus” it was clear that on this rainy Tuesday night that when he wants to, Arthur; can compete with some of the best rock & roll duo’s to call Akron home.
The duo of Arthur & Simins really clicked by the third song of the night, which I can only describe as Temporary People>Poetry Reading>Jam. As I have said before, each show Arthur puts on is a unique one of a kind experience and this version of “Temporary People” was completely different from the version of a week ago. The outro jam was much like watching Dr. Frankenstein vs. Godzilla battle it out. Arthur worked feverishly tweaking guitar pedals and whaling upon a white Stratocaster as Simins wreaked havoc upon his five piece drum set. What’s most freakish in looking back was the fact that these two were just warming up.
Aiming to please (his words, not mine) Arthur began taking requests from various females in the audience. First up was “Vacancy” which featured a subdued Simins lightly hitting his kit while allowing the focus to remain on Arthur. Had the chatty Arthur not mentioned the fact Simins didn’t know the next request “Invisible Hands” chances are no one would have noticed. While the song was slightly faster than most versions, yet the haunting feeling that comes with the number was as strong as ever.
As Arthur joked with the crowd after performing “Invisible Hands” a voice from the back of the room screamed FAT TONY. Holding back a giant smile, Arthur invited the heckler up on stage. Why wouldn’t he, the heckler was current Twilight Singers/former Afghan Whigs vocalist Greg Dulli. No stranger to sharing the stage with Arthur, both men confessed their fears over having to share a mic with bad breath. Thankfully Dulli came to the rescue with a pack of gum that had only two remaining pieces (sorry Russell). With fresh breath between them both, the two singers belted out Arthur’s biggest hit to date “In The Sun.” For as amazing as it was to see the two perform together once again, what happened next truly blew my mind.
A moment after inviting vocalist C.C. White to the stage, Arthur glanced in my direction (or at least I would like to think he did). He informed White that his father had watched last week’s performance on the internet and his father felt that perhaps White had held back. It took me a second, but then it sunk in that Joseph Arthur’s father had seen my video on the internet. Talk about an honor. As far as this version of “Heroes” goes, I am glad to report that White took Mr. Arthur’s advice and didn’t hold back at all.
I can’t lie, I love watching the evolution of “I Miss The Zoo.” Intense bursts of poetry over gnarling guitar lines, “Zoo” punches you in the chest with brass knuckles. After a rocking “Slide Away” the duo closed the set with “Lack A Vision.” With loops in place, Arthur finished his latest on stage painting that he began moments before the first note was played. Unlike last week, he returned for an encore. The only song performed solo by Arthur all night was “Honey and the Moon” by request of yet another female fan. The duo closed with “Speed of Light” which started off soft and reserved but slowly built up into a raging end-all-be-all rock and roll machine. Arthur made multiple trips to his amp in order to crank up the volume and send the crowd home with their ears ringing.
Sadly I won’t be able to cover next weeks show at the Bootleg. I had already taken the opportunity to check out Lazarus AD & Death Angel at the Key Club days before Arthur announced his residency, but do not fear. I will be back for the final night, but in the event anyone wants to cover next week for Concert Confessions, please drop us an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).