Joseph Arthur & Friends (w/ MK & the Gentlemen & “Juan” Y) 04/09/10
The Stronghold – Venice, CA
words/photos/videos by Reverend Justito/concertconfessions.com
Updated 06/28/11: The channel that hosted nearly 700 videos for Concert Confessions was removed from YouTube earlier this month. In re-uploading these videos, I discovered a video of “Juan.” As it turns out, “Juan” is actually “Y”. For those who have read my 2011 reviews of Joseph (which you can read here, here, here and here) you know it took me weeks to figure out his name. Originally, I did not upload the video of Y performing on April 9th (since I didn’t have a song title or proper name) but it has been included in this updated review. We hope you enjoy.
Over the months after myfirst Joseph Arthur show, I was angry. In the months since my second Joseph Arthur show, I have become geeky fan boy obsessed. I have hit both indie and big chain record stores filling the gaps in my compact disc (yes I still buy those) collection. I printed out some guitar tabs and began the process of learning how to personally butcher the music that I love so much. Most of all, I sat around dreaming about how I will get my next fix of the man live and in person. Much to my shock and delight, that chance not only came less than three months from the mind shattering Troubadour shows, but in the form of a month long residency less than five miles from home. While I was unable to make the first show due to a prior showcommitment, I squealed like a pig in mud when I saw that the final three shows were clear on my calendar. So with the work week in the rear view, I headed south to Venice on the second Friday in April eager to get a much needed fix of Joseph Arthur. Unknown to me, I was in for quite the fix as strange things are afoot at The Stronghold in Venice, CA.
Having no idea as to the start time, I showed up around 8:30pm. Clearly this was way too early so I walked up and down Abbot-Kinney debating which food truck to eat dinner at. After making my choice, I headed back and decided I would form the line while chowing down. At a time, I was a bit disappointed with myself. After all, I rushed out the door like a mad man to get down to the venue, only to have nothing to do for an hour but stuff my face with warm sushi and run down the battery on my iphone. The doors for the venue above a vintage clothing store finally opened about 9:45pm, and after making a $15 dollar donation I headed up the old wooden staircase. I was surprised to see that the venue was nothing more than a glorified loft with a tiny stage and two big brown leather couches nailed into the hard wood floors. It took me a second, but then a large smile slowly spread across my face. I made a b-line to the stage left couch and plopped down right in front of the mic stand (or as I discovered the best friggin seat in the house). I quickly made friends with two very intoxicated blondes who sat down next to me around the same time. Now that seat guarding was in place, I headed to the drink area, where I made a $10 donation for two cans of Turtle Piss Mexican Beer (thankfully, the party later upgraded to chilled cans of Tecate and Tecate Light).
As the loft began to fill, a band out of Venice called MK & The Gentlemen took the stage. Even if the music had sucked, I would encourage every straight single male within a 30 mile zone of any and all shows to check this band out. While I doubt I am the first to come up with the term TunaFest, it sure as hell sums up the crowd. As far as the music goes, it’s what you would expect from four dudes out of Venice. Laid back slow melody rich beach jams very similar to Jack Johnson. However, while it is easy to compare based off the overall sound, MK & The Gentlemen blow Jack Johnson away on a technical level. Within those laid back grooves are short and sudden bursts of almost hippie-esque noodle goodness. In fact, vocally the bands front man (MK I assume) reminded me a lot of Chuck Garvey from moe. While not my favorite style of music, MK & the Gentlemen really left a lasting impression, and not just because a large number of women in the crowd were moving and shaking across the dance floor. Jack Johnson is great in short bursts, but after 15 minutes it feels like the same song over and over which of course leaves to boredom. MK manage to mix it up from number to number without ever leaving their comfort zone. A middle eastern flavored song here, a heavy tribal grove there, I was entertained and even a little disappointed when they were told they only had time for one more. If you’re a fan of the O.A.R. Donovan FrankenCitizenCope surf bum prep hippie light jam acoustic bongo noodle rock sound (and I know some of you are) then MK & The Gentlemen are for you.
As beach dwelling hippies and/or hipsters sipped mixed drinks out of large Dixie paper cups, I took a moment to really soak in my surroundings. This wasn’t a show this was more of a party at some strangers house. Hell, there was a dog running around, you don’t see that shit at Club Nokia that’s for damn sure. It felt like the cops could bust in at any moment, and when not focused on the Christmas lights covering the spiral staircase behind the scare I was pondering if the old brick building could survive The Big One. Then there was the door with the sign that said “Artists Only” which had everyone and anyone walking in and out of it. Obsessive stalker fan boy took over as I had the perfect view of Arthur sitting on a couch getting ready to hit the stage. When he finally hit the stage it really hit me; I am about to watch Joseph Arthur rock someones living room.
Joined by Jessy Greene on violin and Rami Jaffee on accordion, Arthur kicked off the second night of his residency with “I Donated Myself To The Mexican Army.” I instantly wondered if perhaps it was an ode to the night’s beer stash? Towering above me, the lanky Arthur’s sang into the mic eyes closed focused only on the music. As party goers chatted at the same volume as the sounds coming from the tiny plywood stage, Arthur and company carried on. “September Baby” is one of the songs that has been on repeat in my mind since January, so I was thrilled when it made an early appearance. The few hipsters who made it out from Echo Park were equally as excited to hear a song named after their home town.
Still having a few gaps in my collection, Arthur played a lot of material I was unfamiliar with. Perhaps there were some new songs in there, I am not really sure. One song it almost appeared made up on the spot. After creating another trademark loop with his guitar, Arthur ripped some pages out of a notebook and began reading what seemed to be a poem. While both shows had a rabid fan base, this is something that would have never worked at The Troubadour, but was perfect for The Stronghold. It was also around this time that Arthur switched from acoustic to electric and the show went to a whole new level. While I can appreciate all of his music, I have always been drawn to the crazy riffs and loops that he creates. While he had used a Telecaster back in January, Arthur never really maximized it’s potential. I am unable to name what kind of guitar he had on this particular night, but with an unusually high amount of knobs and switches I can tell you that it was anything but ordinary. I had never realized just how hard Arthur can shred. Bending string and slamming down on a whammy bar, Arthur can really tear it up as a lead guitarist. In fact I am hard pressed to find anything this man can’t do?
As one of those assholes who lives on their cellphone, I noticed that fellow LA blogger/twitter palRock Is A Girl’s Best Friend was in the crowd and shared a pic. Low and behold she was standing right behind me. I quickly introduced myself between songs (as we had yet to actually meet in person), and sunk back into the coach around the time that Arthur brought out fellow Ohio rocker Greg Dulli (The Twilight Singers, The Afghan Whigs, The Gutter Twins). I have to assume the invite from Arthur was on the spot, as Dulli appeared hesitant in joining the fun. After discussing who would take the high road and who would take the low road vocally, the two voices blended together on “Take Me Home”. As Arthur began to finger pick out the opening notes on his guitar, Dulli clenched his can of beer, took a deep breath and eased right into the quiet number. A few songs later, Arthur was joined by local singer/songwriter Queen Kwong. A much bigger enthusiast of cats than myself, Kwong (real name Carré Callaway) encouraged the packed room to hush before she shared her soft song “Black Heart.” While I had mixed feelings about her performance last fall opening for Nine Inch Nails, on this particular night Kwong really sucked me into her world. Singing about breaking hearts, the tiny Kwong strummed an acoustic guitar with a body much larger than hers. You could really feel the vulnerability within the performance, and I must wonder if perhaps Kwong is better suited as a delicate singer songwriter vs. electric rocker grrrrrrrl?
With all the guests up on stage, it was an actress who made the biggest impression on my night. Out of nowhere appeared Emmy Award nominee Rosanna Arquette. Taking a seat on the floor in front of the stage towards the end of the set, Arquette managed to convice Arthur to play another song I am currently obsessed with “Redemption Son.” With the same acoustic used by Kwong now looking small on him, Arthur applied his capo and dove right in. With eyes closed Arthur begged for forgiveness into the mic and produced huge glowing smiles on the faces of both myself and Courtney Cox’s sister-in-law.
Dressed like a mix of Yoko Ono era John Lennon and Hunter S. Thompson, Arthur towards the end of the set allowed Greene to take center stage and lead the band for a song. It would be only minutes later that Arthur would end up closing his set with “Crying Like A Man.” Setting up another loop, Arthur put down his guitar and finished a painting which he started moments before the first notes rang from the stage. It was at this point that for the first time Greene, Jaffee and a fourth musician (who based off my observation may be an employee of the venue who helps as a stage hand etc) overpowered the music instead of complimenting it. As soon as Arthur completed the panting, he wished the crowd goodnight, leaving the others to provide a backdrop of melody before slowly exiting one by one. As soon as folks realized there would be no encore they slowly began to exit the loft. Despite a bladder full of canned Mexican goodness I was not ready to get up. I watched as various individuals raced to set up the stage for the next act, but really my mind needed a few solid moments to process what had just occurred. Here was a man who back in January created the best performance I have seen this decade, and before you can say Memorial Day he has gone and created something 100% different, yet equally as brilliant. While I eventually peeled myself off the couch, I was in no rush to go home. In fact, I ended up watching the entire next set that featured two gentlemen on guitars. Sadly I could never make out their name (I thought it was Juan, and when I confirmed with the singer, he said no, but if I wanted to call him that I could), but with the loft now only holding a handful of people, Arthur beat upon a single drum for most of their set.
With what appeared to be a fusion/reggae band setting up after “Juan” had wrapped up a humor filled set of indie folk songs, I had to tap out. With the rumor of Arthur wrapping up at 3am with a few solo acoustic songs, I really wanted to stay, but was drained from a long week. I convinced myself that this was OK, based off the fact that there is no way in hell I will not be there over the next two Friday night’s. In fact, if you’re game, I personally invite you to join me next Friday night to show up early (yes Los Angeles, I know that’s asking a lot) and help me man the stage left coach. Personally, I am counting down the hours before I can watch Joseph Arthur create an explosion of images and sounds while hardly breaking a sweat.
A direct descendant of the outlaw Jesse James and star of a 1983 Kilpatricks Bread radio commercial, Reverend Justito has taken his gift of ADHD and put it to good use by creating one of a kind concert reviews. A bootlegger at heart, the man lives off Whiskey, Taco Bell and the love of San Francisco sports teams.